FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF
I have experienced a lot of grief during the 32 years on this earth and the emotions I experienced when I lost my parents were very similar to when I received my diagnosis of primary and recurrent breast cancer.
It’s important to understand that everyone deals with grief differently and the stages we experience don’t necessarily mirror how the experts expect.
After my recurrence diagnosis, it took me a while to realise that I was already on the grief train and I have had to face a lot of demons this time around.
We have all been in denial at some point in our lives, but for me this stage of grief has certainly instigated the domino affect with entering each stage of the grief process.
I honestly believed I had beat the big c, that it wouldn’t dare test me again and my body wouldn’t allow it to consume my whole existence once again. Looking back, I was naive, stuck in the positivity cloud from kicking cancers ass but I know if I didn’t keep my head in the clouds, I wouldn’t have been able to move on with my life.
Of course I was mortified when I received my recurrence diagnosis, but it didn’t sink in! I still had my head in the clouds and kept believing I would wake up from the nightmare. You know that feeling when you have woken up from a bad dream and realise it was just that, I would find myself daydreaming about that relief. When it didn’t come, I would keep pinching myself in the hope I would wake up.
It’s not healthy to be in denial as you need to face reality but subconsciously our minds somehow create a mirage of limbo, stuck between our s*** reality and what we desire. The desire to want everything to be ok is how we as humans function after a trauma and the denial phase can only last for so long before the next stage of grief creeps in, whatever that may be.
Grief and anger go hand in hand! Anger brings out the worst in people, but it also allows us to release the negative thoughts and pressures we feel in our day to day lives.
When I was diagnosed again in February this year, I hated the world and even the professionals who treated me the first time. I felt like a failure and they were the reason I felt that way towards myself. I still feel angry every day but I have learnt to channel the anger in other ways. We all have those moments where we feel sorry for ourselves but placing that burden on yourself and your loved ones won’t help you fight!
I was angry at myself for being so naive, that cancer had chosen me again. I was angry that I would lose my hair for the second time after growing it to the length I desired, that my family would see me poorly again and their lives would be altered to suit my treatment plans.
I have learnt along the way to adjust and channel my anger into working out (not so much these days but a good gym session can release that tension). I will have that cry and scream profanities but this usually takes place in my car on my own or into my pillow. I will vent to my friends and family, they allow me to cry and hate my situation, they help me find my calm place!
When my surgeon gave me the bad news this time around, the anger I felt towards him was immense, I wanted to reach over and scream at him, call him every name under the sun but doing that wouldn’t change my outcome.
I have never been that angry bird but just because I don’t show it, doesn’t mean it’s not festering inside of me. We need to feel anger to know we are human and that our situation is real, no matter how tough it is.
I am my own worst enemy when it comes to this grief stage. I deal with tough situations by thinking of all possible outcomes - good or bad and always have. Some may say this is a good way to rationalise your thoughts but that’s not the case for us cancer bods!
I always think “what if” and put myself under a lot of pressure. What if I caught it before it spread to my lymph nodes the first time around? What if I had eaten certain foods but allowing the what ifs to consume me won’t change my situation.
After speaking with many ladies in the cancer community, the one thing that pops up an awful lot is the feeling of not having any control! We almost hand over our souls and last ditch of hope to the professionals, praying they have the ultimate cure. I have yet again had no choice but to leave my life in the hands of the professionals and this is a decision I struggle to adjust to and where I question my ability to commit. The first time being thrown into the cancer world, you don’t know any different, you go along with it and hold onto every word. This time I faced a lot of turmoil, I had to delve deep into every aspect which I know has contributed to the overwhelming doubt, not just in myself but the professionals.
Many say hindsight is a wonderful thing but not when you’re facing an uncertain future which in turn forces you to question every decision you have made in your life.
Many situations in life can contribute to us being depressed, our jobs, family life and the loss of a loved one.
Depression affects the way we think, how we feel and ultimately how we behave. Many of us could have depression but not actually be aware of it. I have been depressed a lot in my life but never acted on it, I always thought it was a sign of weakness until I received my cancer diagnosis.
There are many types of depression and I have never been able to pinpoint a specific one that has contributed to the way I am but I don’t think I need to. It’s about acceptance and allowing yourself to feel sad, shocked and even lost. It’s OK to get help and express your emotions, just tackle them at the pace you feel is right for you!
I have never been a cryer but what I have always been is an open book! I deal with my depression and anxiety through sharing my troubles, whether it be with my family or strangers. You never know what someone is going through but if you share just a little bit of yourself, it might just open that door for someone else. Through this diagnosis, I have left a few pages out but that’s OK! I need to face certain demons alone and in time I may be able to accept them.
With all the grief stages I have faced, acceptance is the hardest and I am not there yet! I don’t know if I ever will, but it’s something I am working on. My family and friends have always pushed me to be selfish with this aspect but it’s just not in my nature. With a cancer diagnosis you need to be selfish but I have yet to honour it.
There has always been that conflict within me between accepting what my life is right now and what it could have been without cancer! It mirrors my journey with bargaining and feeling like a failure. I have accomplished a lot in my life but cancer takes a lot from you physically and mentally. Accepting and moving forward with a diagnosis isn’t a walk in the park, you have to literally fight for your life!
A common question I get asked from ladies in the same boat is “how did you move on after the first diagnosis?” My answer is always the same, “I didn’t!” I learnt to channel the frustration of losing 9 months of my life into work, family and just enjoying each day. I still never accepted my diagnosis, I just tolerated it because otherwise cancer would have won as it’s ultimate goal is to kill you, so living your life as normal as possible IS WINNING!
X Lucy X