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We know that a cancer diagnosis can put a strain on your mental health whether it took place a month ago or a year ago. Our support services hear from people who are dealing with difficult emotions, with relationships which have become more stressful since a diagnosis, or from friends or family who just don’t know what to say.
At Jo’s, we want you to know that you’re never alone. Whether you choose to connect with others in a similar situation on our Forum or speak to a Helpline volunteer who can empathise, there is always someone to talk to. However, building up your own toolkit of ways to protect your mental health is important too – that is true whether you are the one with a diagnosis or whether you are offering support.
To mark World Mental Health Day, we asked our community for their tips on looking after your own mental health after a cervical cancer diagnosis, as well as some useful things for loved ones to know. We hear from Amanda, diagnosed at 27 in 2018; Sarah, a mum of three diagnosed in 2016 aged 30 and Kathryn, diagnosed at 33 in 2019.
Amanda: I think the main thing is to not treat someone going through cancer any differently or act a different way around them. We don't want to be made to feel like the elephant in the room - or the cancer in the room - I just needed my friends and family to be there for me, to listen when I needed to talk or share the silence when I couldn't speak. To let me cry and maybe cry with me.
The worst things people say is when they talk about children and they tell me that "miracles happen" and maybe one day I'll get pregnant when in reality that is never going to happen. That's something people should never say to a woman who has gone through the menopause and pelvic radiotherapy.
Sarah: I had a friend who came with me to a chemo session one day, she was amazing. She brought homemade treats and crafts and we just had the best time, it was a good opportunity to spend some one to one time with friends. When I was well enough I looked forward to spending time with different friends and family members as they offered to join me at appointments. The same friend would make us family-size homemade meals that we just had to warm up after radiotherapy, it felt amazing knowing I didn't have to go home and cook but my children were still getting good, healthy food.
Every Friday we 'celebrated' as a family being another week of treatment down. We went out for a meal, cinema or takeaway depending how I was feeling. It gave us something to look forward to each week and happy memories to look back on.
Kathryn: Try and leave the house (if you can) or do something on a daily basis. One of the things I found the hardest was that I wouldn’t leave the house for sometimes days on end and get myself in a rut. Call someone, get someone over, sit in the garden with a good book/coffee/glass of wine or go for a walk - even if you just pop to the shops. Just getting out was enough to try and lift my mood. It meant that I remembered there was a world outside of what I was going through, as I think we all are guilty of getting absorbed by our own lives.
But above everything, try and talk to people, tell them how you’re feeling. Try not to cut out family and friends, for the most part they want to help and comfort you. They might not always know what to say or say the right thing but mostly it will come from a good place. In some cases I found the mere act of talking about how you are feeling helps to get it off your mind.
Remember you don’t have to be strong and brave, even if you are surrounded by people that tell you that all the time. It’s ok to be vulnerable, upset, scared, hurt, confused because what you’re going through is crappy.
Sarah: I think the best advice I was given was that worrying now will never change the future outcome, what will be will be regardless so the best thing you can do is to live life in the moment, sometimes things will be good and other times they will be bad but how you feel is not a fixed or permanent state, this is something that helped me to get through the toughest times, the knowledge that it won't always feel like this.
Amanda: Cancer changes you as a person, so much so I'll never be able to put it into words. If you feel you are struggling mentally please talk to someone about it. We need to remember that we are still the same person despite not feeling like it, the old you is still there and although it may not feel like it now, in time that person will come back.