How does it feel to have cancer? Kevin’s story
Thursday 14 April 2022
Kevin, aged 58, shares a very honest account of how cancer has affected his mental health and how important it is to look after your emotional wellbeing.
This was a question I honestly had never considered as I had visions of someone with cancer as being stuck in a chair having chemotherapy causing them to lose their hair and looking very drawn and unwell.
I was diagnosed with Stage 3b rectal cancer in August 2021 and the physical side of this and the treatment has not been what I thought but more than anything, the mental side of having cancer and going through treatment has been something else entirely.
I have had chemotherapy by medication and radiotherapy which has caused continuing side effects like a sore coccyx and dodgy bladder. Fatigue keeps cropping up every now and then. Then there was the surgery which left me with a permanent stoma and took away my sigmoid bowel, rectum and anus. Physically I am recovering and adapting to having a “bum on my tum” but mentally it’s still a fight.
This last week I have been back to the hospital a few times for follow up tests and this has caused flashbacks to the day of the surgery. It has also brought to the surface all those feelings I had after diagnosis and during the first stage of the treatment.
I can still remember the feelings I had when my wife was waving from the car park on that morning but I was frozen in place as I thought it was the last time I would see her.
You see, I honestly thought I was not going to survive the surgery. I put things in place to make sure everything was covered in that event. I can still remember the feelings I had when my wife was waving from the car park on that morning but I was frozen in place as I thought it was the last time I would see her. So last week, as I was walking to the hospital entrance I was back to that place mentally, so full of fear and dread. I started sweating and my mouth went dry but I just carried on (as we do) but for days the feelings lingered.
Thankfully, I survived the surgery which has turned out to be successful and am now in surveillance. So why am I not jumping around and “moving on” with a “fresh start” as many people tell me.
Well, I am mentally and emotionally exhausted and very delicate with constant work being done to maintain my mental health as since August last year it’s all been about the cancer and the treatment. Now that’s gone I am left with a stoma, a very sore bottom area and a weakened pelvic floor.
I had a counsellor throughout my treatment and she offered something which helps me. “Kevin, maybe on that day, the old you did pass away and there is now a new you, a survivor”. This is something I am beginning to see and there is a new me here.
So it has not been anything like what I thought it was.
It has changed me physically, mentally and emotionally.
Emotional wellbeing is just as important as the physical side of cancer.
All I can suggest for people when they talk to someone with cancer is to ask them how they are feeling, how the treatment is going or just say that you have no idea what it must be like. Some comments, despite being said with all good intentions, had a negative effect on me. The main one is “Stay positive and you will be ok”. Positivity does have its place and its benefits but trust me, it takes a damn sight more than positivity to get cancer out of your body.
And for those with cancer and those caring for someone with cancer, please just keep going and keep sharing how you feel and ask for help from places like Bowel Cancer UK. There is good advice and support out there, thankfully.