My Breast Cancer Diagnosis
The last 12 months were not what I expected. It was a year of upset, shock, denial, acceptance and growth. While I anticipated struggle and some personal growth, I was surprised by how much I have learned.
A breast cancer diagnose is shocking to alone and for me I think it came at a greater surprise as I was diagnosed with breast cancer just 24 hours before my scheduled prophylactic (preventative) double mastectomy.
A week prior to surgery I had several biopsies of a suspicious-fast growing lump in my left breast. At the time, I just saw it as a little scare intended to convince me that I was doing the right thing moving forward with preventative surgery.
So many emotions and thoughts ran through my head when I learned I had breast cancer. I spent so much time researching mastectomies and preparing myself mentally to lose my breasts. I honestly felt as though I was being punished for not being ready to have this surgery sooner.
My initial reaction to the news was anger. I was so full of regret and anger and I didn’t know how to process my cancer diagnoses. Jumping from surgery, to fertility preservation, to treatment overwhelmed me and sometimes all I could do was cry.
What I learned about Mindset
I’m not sure the exact moment but I’m thankful that I realized the thing that was causing me the most pain wasn’t breast cancer but the anger I was hanging onto.
I was angry at myself for not having surgery sooner;
at the doctor who dismissed my lump a year prior;
at people who let me down when I needed them;
I was angry over the pandemic which caused me to attend treatments and appointments alone.
(just to name a few!)
Things got easier when I realized I needed to shift my mindset. Each day I let more and more of this anger go-not because these things were no longer difficult or frustrating to me but because being angry is so exhausting and unhealthy.
It is so incredibly important to acknowledge the power you have in shaping your experiences and how you come out of trauma. It all stems from your mindset.
YES. IT IS THAT SIMPLE
The reason why we often dismiss ‘thinking positive’ as a strategy is because many of us haven’t been taught how to do so and we are often irritated by toxic positivity from well-intentioned individuals.
So to be clear, I’m not suggesting you ‘think positive’; I’m suggesting you reframe your mindset.
Reframing your Mindset
Reframing your mindset is work. You need to make a conscious effort to do so.
The following strategy has worked for me. If you find yourself struggling or feeling anxious about something take 5 minutes to meaningfully think about whatever is troubling you and use the following as a guide:
If you are anything like me this may sound a bit cheesy but lets break it down with an example…
The first thoughts that popped into my head when I heard the words breast cancer were: CHEMOTHERAPY and HAIRLOSS.
What helped me was using this strategy and realizing what I needed in that moment.
How I coped with Hair loss
- Acknowledge what is making you unhappy.
-I don’t what to lose my hair.
– I don’t what to be bald or feel self-conscious. Cancer is terrifying me.
- Validate your feelings
-I love my long hair and I don’t want to lose it so my feelings make sense
-It will take so long for my hair to grow back and it feels so unfair!!
- Identify what you cannot change
-I can’t stop my hair from falling out.
- How can you improve this situation?
-I could learn about what to expect with this hair loss
-I can learn about wigs so I don’t feel anxious about using them
-I am going to shave my hair so I am not upset when it falls out and take care of my scalp to manage discomfort
- How can I grow from this? What can I be thankful for?
-I am thankful that this hair loss is only temporary
-This is a fresh start for new hair growth
-I can experiment with new styles and hair colours without damaging my own hair.
-I’ll learn to appreciate my other features more
Did asking myself these questions solve my problem? NO.
Did I still cry over my hair? MANY TIMES.
Did it benefit my mental health – Without a doubt!
Cutting my hair before it could fall out was the most empowering thing I could have done for myself in that moment. If I hadn’t taken the time to reflect on how I felt I would not have realized what I needed (to regain a sense of control when I felt helpless.)
Reframing your mindset not a magical strategy that is going to have you thrilled about hair loss or make any of your problems disappear but it will help you to:
1. Better understand your feelings
2. Accept what you cannot change
3. Reduce feelings of helplessness
4. Practice gratitude
Reframing My Mindset did more than help me cope with Breast Cancer
Monitoring my mindset has helped me grieve the loss of my breasts, accept my new body, cope with the stressful treatments (IVF, chemotherapy and radiation) and care for my mental health.
I cannot say I’m grateful for breast cancer but I am grateful for the opportunity it has provide for self growth and reflection. I no longer blame myself for what has happened to me, instead I thank myself regularly for being brave enough to book an elective surgery and not allow the trauma I have endured define me.
If you find yourself in a situation that feels impossible, never ending and makes you feel helpless I want you to remember you have more power than you think.
If you have tried this strategy of reframing your mindset or have other ideas to add. Let me know by leaving a comment below.