I had six hours or sessions of counselling. Six hours of being far, far, far out of my comfort zone where my default position of trying to be funny wasn’t going to work.
Now, several months on, I can look back and I think it was an interesting experience. At the time though I didn’t like the vulnerability or the unpicking of my feelings – it was all a bit self indulgent or so I thought. I didn’t fully appreciate that having had a cancer diagnosis and a mastectomy was a bit like a bereavement. I didn’t say goodbye to the old me or want to acknowledge the new me… where was that wretched cloak of invicibility when it was needed?
The Counselor made me consider what I would do if I were given the option of a risk reducing mastectomy on the good boob. She talked about showing compassion to myself – this still doesn’t sit easily with me. By using skilled questioning techniques, she asked me to think about what would I say to a co-worker or friend who had a recent diagnosis. If I could be kind to them, why not to myself? She wanted me to think of the implant like a foster child… no way!
All this talking through the issue was fine but it didn’t address the heart of the problem – I felt I had let myself down and let others down by having this disease. I now felt I was an inconvenience at home as I wasn’t really up and running fully, to friends as I didn’t see as much of them as I was shattered and mainly with my colleagues who’d had to cover duties, lessons and carry on without me. I know it is “only a job” but I’d been in this school only for a couple of years and I knew that I would see out my career here. I had high expectations of others and higher for myself. The counselor asked if I was ashamed of having cancer… no not really, as far as I’m aware it isn’t a STI and I hadn’t actively gone out of my way to catch it… if anything I was still deeply angry about it. Anger – a bit of a wasted emotion and a waste of energy as I didn’t have the power to change what had gone before but I wasn’t fully there with acceptance either.
I hadn’t appreciated that cancer was so competitive either! I hadn’t had chemotherapy or radiotherapy as the disease had been identified at an early stage by the mammogram. I was told by some people, including a few well meaning friends and family that I’d been one of the “lucky” ones. Everyone knew someone who’d been through cancer treatment, who’d been terribly sick and lost their hair with chemo or burnt to a crisp with radio. Was I supposed to feel guilty? Maybe I did for feeling relieved that I didn’t need further adjuvant treatment other than taking a tablet once a day. Really I felt fatigued, foggy with aching joints from taking Letrozole. I didn’t feel that lucky – grateful, yes for all the treatment and for still being here. Then I met some of the Bosom Pals through a support group and started to feel a whole heap better.