When I was told my first surgery revealed I had cancer, and that I would need a second surgery then radiation, I thought I knew what I was in for.
There would be the physical scars, some stiffness and vocal weakness for a while, but, in the specialist’s words “you’re young, you’ll sail through it”.
In fact, the days, weeks, months and year that followed my release from that lead-lined hospital room, were some of the toughest of my life.
I was thrust back into a life that looked and sounded like my old life, but I was very different within it. I wasn’t at all prepared for the physical side effects – of the radiation particularly – which caused brain fog, extreme fatigue and a suppressed immune system. But the emotional and mental landscape was so vastly different, I had no idea how to cope. I didn’t know what was “normal” to feel and experience, and how best to deal with them. And since my physical treatment had finished up for the time being, I was pretty much up the proverbial creek without anyone experienced to talk to.
That isolation was scary and made the whole experience so much more difficult and overwhelming.
Then there’s the moment, seven years earlier, when my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. For the second time. Watching her go through a mastectomy, chemo and reconstruction was tough. Especially feeling so helpless and scared. Not knowing what to do or to say.
I wish I’d known about the Cancer Council Online Community.
Community • Unity
When the Cancer Council asked me to share my experiences to help launch their new format, I jumped at the chance. It was the missing piece of my cancer recovery, and it’s my fervent wish that everyone had access to this service.
Guess what, we do.
The Cancer Council Online Community is a free online forum with three different portals:
• People who have just been diagnosed
• Friends/Family and Carers of People dealing with cancer
• Survivors (this is where I like to see myself now)
I’ve been in all three of these roles, and none of them are easy.
The first time I looked through the forum’s posts, I felt like I was reading my own words: many people expressing the isolation they felt after finishing treatment (hello!); others sharing their feelings at witnessing a loved one undergo treatment (yup). And don’t even get me started on the mind games that are laced through experiences of survivorship.
For the first time, I felt a wealth of knowledge, care and support across the miles (and bandwidth). Between complete strangers. Between anonymous voices who, like many others, needed support when times got tough.
Community • Stories
I spent a day with Louise and Dom (pictured above) to create this video. They were both brilliant: sensitive, caring and so creative. It’s always important to me that I do work that somehow makes a positive difference to the world around me. So it was very easy to support such a wonderful cause by donating my time and energy. But I didn’t realise just how much I personally would get out of it.
At the end of our day of filming, I felt exhausted but also somehow clearer. I found the day so healing and cathartic in my own way. It feels to me that I’ve perhaps moved through something by working on this project. I was asked questions around my experiences with cancer that I had never thought about or expressed out loud before. It shone a light onto parts of me and feelings that I didn’t realise were still present or in need of attention.
I believe that sharing and releasing these things in a healthy way is a key part of recovery and maintaining health. And since the Cancer Council shared my story this week on Facebook, I’ve been overwhelmed by the support, strength, love and positivity that has been sent my way from virtual strangers. I really do now understand that community is part of our deepest human needs. I am so grateful to the kind and generous souls who have shared their stories, fears and experiences with me this week.
Community • Strength
The facts are that right now, 1 in 3 people will have cancer in their lifetime. Some are even estimating it as closer to 1 in 2. That means, chances are either we or someone we know will be affected by cancer.
We need resources like this.
So if you have just been diagnosed, if you know someone who has and don’t know what to say or do, or if you are in fear of the cancer returning, if you’re worried, or just need to know that you’re not alone, please check out the Cancer Council Online Community and get in touch: www.cancercouncil.com.au/OC
Together we will beat cancer.
To read the full story on the Cancer Council’s website, click here