Beating bowel cancer together

How Pete managed his mental health during cancer treatment

Pete Wheatstone, 63 from Selby, was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer in 2014. He shares with us how he managed his mental health during his treatment on World Mental Health Day (Thursday 10 October)

As most cancer patients will tell you, the biggest battle is the psychological one – cancer definitely messes with your mind.

Most patients are numbed by the diagnosis and the immediate questions that we need to ask: Why me? What have I done wrong? Can you cure me? How will I and my family cope with the treatment? How will we cope financially?

After treatment has finally finished, the body should recover but the psychological battle continues: Will my cancer return? How will I know? Will I survive if it happens? Do I actually want to come off the five-year surveillance programme and not have any tests for the cancer returning?

Here are my top tips to manage your mental health:

Read the information

When you’re first diagnosed with bowel cancer, you’re given a huge amount of leaflets to read. I’m not sure what you did, but I might have read one or two but ultimately I put them in a corner to gather dust. Take a few days to let your diagnosis settle in, but do then go back to the leaflets as they may contain important information to support you.

Seek counselling support

I’m of the generation that don’t really talk about emotions. During my treatment, I kept thinking that I was absolutely fine but in reality I wasn’t. When you’re in the moment, you can’t see the wood from the trees but looking back I was tired, intolerant and was not coping very well at all.

My hospital team did refer me for counselling, but then it was up to my GP to take it further. They never did, and I didn’t ask. When you’re receiving NHS treatment, it’s vital to push for the support that you need.

Have something else to focus on

When I was diagnosed my daughter was eight months pregnant with our first grandchild. He was born whilst I was having treatment and this was a blessing for me as me and my family had something else, more positive, to focus on.  

I now immerse myself in cancer research – that’s my coping mechanism. When I talk about what I have been through as a patient representative, almost five years after completing treatment, there are still times when, to my surprise, strong emotions come bubbling to the surface and I have to catch my breath for a moment of two. But otherwise, I like to think that I am doing something positive as a result of that unpleasant experience.

Accept you’re living with bowel cancer

The fear of reoccurrence may be similar to grief. In a way, we are grieving for the toll cancer has taken on our body, our lifestyle, our finances and the sense of lost immortality. Like grief, I think I have started to come to terms with it in the sense of accepting to live with it.

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