Cleaning up the emotional wreckage

From guest blogger Jane Bissell

That can take a while after cancer.

Any kind of bad news, I mean really difficult news, leaves wreckage in its wake. How can anyone emerge unscathed after a diagnosis of cancer? There is the initial shock, and a kind of numbness or denial that this is in fact happening … then it starts to sink in and the emotional ride of wildness begins.

The second time I heard I had breast cancer, my response was different to the first. It was almost like some kind of mute or dumb acceptance, like ‘here we go again’ and it was more of a roll-your-sleeves-up and get on with what you already knew so much about.
Don’t get me wrong. It was still a horror show.

I wrote in an earlier post on my blog site that it was like a hammer blow to the heart and indeed it was. There wasn’t the wild shrieking emotion like the first time but more of a deep pain inside as if someone had struck me with a hammer and left a terrible bruise.

The first time was genuine emotional wreckage and it took a long time to clean up the mess. I was angry, sad, defeated (at times I wanted to give up before I even began), ashamed (I am the only one in the world to get this, I am weak), guilt-ridden (what have I done, or not done, to get this crap?), desperate (I’ll do anything to make this go away – cut me up and then fill me up with chemicals), depressed, and oh-so-tired.

Those supporting you do their best to understand how it is for you and they are also going through their own private hell as they watch you experiencing yours. I am not sure that they have the intensity of emotion, or the wide-ranging all-encompassing depth of it that can have you laughing hysterically one minute about something nobody else thinks is funny, and then crying into your soup bowl the next, wanting to curl up into a ball and hide in the linen closet.

It took about a year for me to clean up the mess cancer wrought that first time, a year to regain my equilibrium, and it was a triumph, an achievement I am proud of. Writing my two books certainly helped and I encourage others to express how they feel, through art, writing, or talking it out with trusted people. Personal expression can start sorting out and vacuuming up the mess quicker than you can say ‘hey presto.’

I didn’t do it alone and I will forever be grateful to those who helped me through, from the medical professionals and friends, family and the kindness of strangers, right down to my little cat Betsy who cared for me during chemo by bringing me leaves from a nearby puka tree every night for a week.

It’s a team effort.

Jane Bissell is a writer and writing workshop facilitator. You can find out more by visiting her website.


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