My breast cancer diagnosis
There are a few moments in your life you never forget. You never forget the feeling, the smell, the noise, the time, or the people who were with you.
One such moment for me was when I was told I had breast cancer. Tuesday 26 May 2020, 10.54am. My world imploded. I was shocked, anxious, frightened, even ashamed. My breath kept coming but I have no idea how. I felt my eyes fill with something strong. Whatever it was it dulled my vision, then my soul, then my ability to communicate.
I was told I had an invasive ductal carcinoma grade 3 tumour nuzzling in my right breast. The very sad realisation for me, was that I had been misdiagnosed in November 2019. I had been told I had a cyst – which I had, but the health professionals who viewed my mammogram, failed to do anything about the 1.7cm lesion behind the cyst. Tests, scans and ultrasounds ensued, and I was left with the news that my now 4 cm tumour was going to be treated by 8 cycles of chemotherapy, followed by a lumpectomy and radiotherapy.
Losing my identity, but not my determination
The following days were spent waiting for test results to see if the cancer had spread, thinking about death and leaving my beautiful family behind. I am only 47 years old, and had such a full life before the cancer, and now the chemo has stripped me of my identity, my energy, and my hair.
But it hasn’t stripped me of my determination and focus to continue counselling other people through their distress. That is the other moment I remember clearly: the moment I saw the advert in my local newspaper in June 1998 for the introduction to a counselling skills course. It’s the kind of vocation that finds you, as indeed it did. I qualified in 2001 and I have been counselling since.
My passion for helping others
As a counsellor I foster choice in my clients. I have become an integrative therapist but I am fully aligned with Carl Rogers ‘Person Centered’ approach. Whereby I use a non-authoritative approach that allows clients to take more of a lead in discussions so that, in the process, they will discover their own solutions. I am a compassionate facilitator, listening without judgment and acknowledging the client’s experience without altering the conversation in anyway. My job is to encourage and support my clients and to guide the therapeutic process without interrupting or interfering with the client’s process of self-discovery. I am not the expert on them or you – you are.
I am passionate about helping others. It’s an innate unconscious driver. To be needed and effective. Once I was diagnosed, and my news became my normal, and my life revolved around three weekly cycles of chemotherapy, my thoughts turned to the question of how I could use my 20 years’ experience as a therapist.
I started writing my journal the day of diagnosis and have not stopped writing since. It is now published and I am reaching out to others, with often different relationships to cancer. I have met a whole host of wonderful people since May, and I am very grateful for the support and compassion I have received from them.
The uncertainty ahead
I have tasted fear, anxiety, total loss, blind panic and anger. I have also felt relief, optimism and found a new part within me that needs a voice. The uncertainty lies ahead – I feel it with every move I make and every inhale and exhale. I hate the fact I cannot see the ending to my story. I can’t skip to the back page.
But what I can do is control what I can – when I can.