Seeing Myself Change From My Before-Cancer Self to My After-Cancer Self

May 26, 2017 7:41 pm

The following article is provided by The Clearity Foundation to support women with ovarian cancer and their families. Learn more about The Clearity Foundation and the services we provide directly to women as they make treatment decisions and navigate emotional impacts of their diagnosis.

Seeing Myself Change From My Before-Cancer Self to My After-Cancer Self

By: Annette McElhiney

Before I had cancer, I was strong, confident, and secure. While it was not always that way, it took years of education, exposure in the classroom and at professional conferences for me to feel good about myself. I always looked healthy and felt healthy. But now that I have the disease, I am virtually a different person from the one I was before. I feel old, hairless, wrinkled, unlovable, cold, and unattractive. The little things that I would have ignored before feel threatening to me now.

The confidence I had before is replaced by a deep vulnerability that makes many things strike at the heart of my insecurities. In some ways, when I look in the mirror at my shaved head that is now beginning to grow back as peach fuzz, I feel as fragile as a newborn baby. My hair will grow back, but I am not certain I can ever go back to having the sense of confidence and security I once had. So in my silence, I grieve for what I have lost (and will lose) if I don’t win my battle with cancer. I keep replaying all I learned about my disease in the past and what I am finding out about it through my own and other survivors’ experiences.

The physical stressors of having ovarian cancer, or any cancer, are difficult. For me, however, they are nothing in comparison to the psychological thought of no longer being alive. I’m searching through reading, meditation, and every other way I know how to give up life gracefully when the time comes.

But the realization that I may succumb to (as the statistics say I will) and lose my battle overwhelms me and I feel terribly confused, helpless, and alone. If I reread my surgical pathology report or hear from an oncologist that the cancer will come back, a huge dark cloud of profound hopelessness drops over me. I feel that despite my fighting spirit and upbeat attitude, I’m just kidding myself and I won’t defeat this terrible disease. This depression may last hours or even days. At these times, I just want to stay in my warm bed, talk to no one, eat nothing, and wait for this black fog to lift. Fortunately, thus far, it usually goes away on its own and I can try again to put on a brave face and be a fighter.

Now that I am temporarily in remission, I am able to ignore the black fog, and negative thoughts and feelings for awhile. But I do wonder how long I will be in remission.

In eighteen months of chemo, I was confined to the house and missed my 23-year-old cat who had died a few years before. I knew I couldn’t go through chemo again without having a cat. We thought that Max (my grandson) was allergic to cats, so I researched and found Bengal cats were the least prone to provoke allergies. Because the Bengal is a crossbreed between an Asian leopard cat and an English tabby, both very people-attached psychologically, we were advised to get two. I located a breeder and asked for two sisters. I chose names for them that symbolized the qualities I need most to fight cancer: Love and Hope. Whenever I sit or lie down, one or sometimes both are on my lap purring. As they purr, an activity that we are told heals them, I feel as if they are healing me. They travel cross-country with us twice a year and are treated like the people they think they are. Thus far, they have been very successful in keeping the black fog from creeping in and making me laugh with their playful antics. Because I know I need to be looking at the positive things in my life instead of the negative, I try to focus on the here and now.

I do realize that I am very fortunate to have reached my age and to have so much (in terms of material objects, lifestyle, family, and friends). I have an entirely new appreciation for all my personal relationships; friends, siblings, sons, grandchildren, and cats. I realize in so many ways that life is a gift that I have now. I appreciate it for what it is, not what I want it to be. But, after ovarian cancer, I am still a changed woman!

Excerpts from my cancer memoir, Realizing my Post Cancer Self: Memoir of an Ovarian Cancer Survivor

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