Cancer second time round: “You ask yourself: why me? …and then you get on with it

Cancer second time round: “You ask yourself: why me? …and then you get on with it

Facing cancer treatment can be a daunting prospect, but armed with the right information and support you can be prepared before you begin.

Facing cancer treatment can be a daunting prospect, but armed with the right information and support you can be prepared before you begin. We talked to one inspirational woman, Anto, who has been through cancer treatment twice, to get her take on how to remain positive and in control during treatment and beyond. Here is her story.

“I was first diagnosed in my 20s, with Hodgkin's lymphoma, after I found a swelling in my neck and armpit. The second time, 20 years later, cancer was found in both my breasts.

It was very aggressive, already stage 3, and had spread to my lymph nodes. I was told that my treatment would start almost immediately and would involve a full mastectomy and chemotherapy.

Having been through this treatment once before, I knew what to expect. I decided to make sure I felt in control of the side effects I knew were coming.

First time around I found it difficult to lose my hair and held on to it for as long as possible – which resulted in a very ‘patchy’ look as the medication took hold. I had treatment during the summer, and wearing a headscarf was very hot and uncomfortable.

Second time, I took the decision just before I started chemo to shave my head. People mark this occasion in very different ways. For me it was a very personal moment that I shared with a close friend.

Once I had done this, I chose a couple of wigs – one I wore to the office that looked very similar to my own hair and style, and the other a great black bob that I wore when I fancied a change. Each week I went to the hairdressers to have my wig washed and styled, and I felt very confident with my new look.

The hair on your head isn’t the only hair you lose – eyebrows and lashes also fall out during chemo. One thing that I do regret is not taking the opportunity to have make-up lessons. I’ve never been big on wearing make-up, but without eyebrows and lashes I did feel like a fish! Make-up can become important when you are going through treatment, and it helped me feel confident.

Your skin can also suffer, as chemo is very dehydrating. Using the right skincare products and foundation can help you combat this. It made me feel good, and more like myself again.

I also noticed my gums and teeth became sensitive – something that I was not expecting. I started using a sensitive toothpaste, which I think definitely helped. And I started very regular check-ups with both the dentist and hygienist to avoid problems.

Receiving a diagnosis can, of course, trigger an emotional reaction. You ask yourself ‘why me?’, and there is often anger to deal with. I needed to find a way to let that go early on, as it didn’t help me.

I used work as a way to focus my energy and enable me to live as normal life as possible throughout my treatment. I continued to work through the chemo. Some days were difficult, and I had to listen to my body and rest when I needed. Working gave me a sense of normality and provided the support I needed through friends I have in the office.

At the hospital where I received treatment, I met lots of women who struggled to cope with their diagnosis. For a while I became a buddy for some of them – helping them to realise that there are examples of women all around (myself, my Mum and my sister, to name three) who have gone through this.

Many people don’t know how to support someone going through cancer treatment – my advice is just be normal! Don’t avoid the subject – talk about it, offer your help and support, but then let the person decide when and how they want to use that.

Your role doesn’t change because you have cancer – you’re still someone’s mum, sister, wife, friend etc, and you don’t want to be treated any differently.

So how is life for me now? Fantastic – I am moving forward, feeling great and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Once you’ve had cancer it’s never behind you, so you need to respect your body and adjust your lifestyle to ensure you remain fit and healthy. Exercise is important to me to help me build stamina and stay in shape. I also attend regular health check-ups to keep an eye on things.

My advice to anyone reading this would be to remain positive. Yes, things can go wrong – but lots of things can go right, too. If you feel in control from the start, you can face whatever comes your way. I have a renewed energy and passion for life.”

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