In 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was then that it seems like I stepped onto a metaphorical cancer rollercoaster and never got off. There were never-ending appointments, tests, lab work, treatments, recovery from each procedure, and side effects. And after all this cancer treatment was done, I no longer felt like myself.
But no one talked about ‘this,’ the “picking up the pieces time,” I wrote in my journal. The pieces were my mental and emotional recovery. I was depressed. Here I was happy that treatment was done, but filled with an unexpected sadness and fear. My world, body, and life seemed foreign. I was confused and out of sync with who I was, my relations with others, and the life I had once lived. ‘This’ is the thing no one talks about after treatment is done.
To fill my mental wellness toolbox during this low time in my life, here are some questions I asked myself:
1. How can I access regular professional help?
The huge stigma towards mental health issues needs to end. Depression is common for those who have had cancer. My body had cancer, so I sought help from an oncologist. Similarly, my mind was not well, so I sought help from a psychologist. From going to talk therapy, I was able to deal with the emotional hole left behind from cancer treatment.
2. How can I rest to rejuvenate and recharge?
Resting could mean sleep, reading a favorite book, watching my favorite TV series, meditation, Reiki sessions, massage, and more. The laundry can wait, it will ALWAYS be there. Resting is a prerequisite to getting well.
3. How can I feed my body well?
An occasional treat is always tasty, but food rich in nutrients helps the body to repair. My body has been through so much, it is crucial to treat it right.
4. How can I fit exercise into my day?
When I was new to exercise, I started by slowly and gently moving my body each day. Even just moving your body a little is really important. Studies have shown that exercise helps one’s mind, emotions, and overall health. Walk. Stretch. Dance. Pilates. Just move… “just do it!”
5. What brings me fulfillment?
Cancer made me realize how precious life is. I needed to start doing things for the sole purpose of happiness, peace, and love. I examined my life and found what truly makes me happy. The key is: what makes my heart sing?
6. How can I reconnect with the world?
Often when we go through trying times, we begin to isolate ourselves. When I was ready, I started reaching out to my family and friends by text, email, and phone. I got on Facebook again and started going out for coffee. Your energy levels likely won’t be as high as they were before cancer, so take baby steps. Others will be there waiting for you.
Your physical health is important, and so is your mental health. Do whatever you need to do to get well.
Barbara is a Junior and Senior High School Arts teacher from Athabasca. In 2015, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and has been a part of the Compassion House community ever since.