The Isolation of Breast Cancer

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I could barely say the words out loud. I first gathered my 4 children and told them what I knew. I briefly skimmed over the “cancer” part and focused on the specifics regarding treatment and future surgery.  I have never been the best communicator and this by far was the most difficult conversation I’ve had to have. We laughed, we cried, we hugged and I reassured them I was going to be O.K even though I had no idea if that was true. The following days and weeks are a blur. There were many appointments for consultations, second opinions, procedures and testing getting ready for the battle of my life.  I quickly became mentally drained and overwhelmed. I started treatment and soon after the COVID-19 pandemic had begun. I had been working for many years as a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner in a large multi-office private practice. I had many friends, colleagues, patients and acquaintances that I interacted with on a daily basis.  Due to being immunocompromised I was unable to continue working.  The news spread quickly of my diagnosis . I dodged the many calls, texts, emails and messaging through social media. I didn’t want to talk about me, cancer and anything in between.  Having cancer during a pandemic became the perfect storm for isolation. While being quarantined helped keep me safe it served me well as I drifted into avoidance and depression. My life as I knew it was spinning out of control. People reached out and I ran the other way. I didn’t want pity or to deal with others emotions and I certainly didn’t want to tell my horrific story over and over again. There was only one thing I could focus on and that was beating cancer. I no longer felt connected to people. I felt jealous that their lives were “normal” and mine no longer was. I felt there was no way anyone could relate to how I was feeling and the thoughts I was having. The physical aspects of my cancer were challenging. There was chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, and radiation treatments. But what I found the most challenging was my mental health. The constant thoughts of cancer and what my future held was unrelenting. Thats when I joined a online breast cancer support group. Quickly I realized how helpful the group of extraordinary women were. I had a instant camaraderie and experienced a unexpected relief of emotional turmoil. I soon realized that no matter what thoughts, fears or questions I had the others in the group had real, relatable experiences, in-site and answers. The support I found there was uplifting and healing beyond my expectations. It is easy to get lost in the physical part of illness. Wherever you are in your battle, know that there are amazing therapies that can offer some relief of the mental challenges. Music therapy, hypnotherapy, counseling, massage therapy, meditation, art therapy, acupuncture, in-person and online support groups. It is important to not only focus on your physical self but your mental health as well.