Guest blogger Annie Belasco shares her experience of anxiety following her breast cancer diagnosis – aged 25
I didn’t live well. I boozed, I smoked, and I didn’t sleep. I worked hard, overrated my love life and underrated my health. I didn’t think about it. And so, my unhealthy lifestyle set me up for the most difficult recovery of my life. To fight for my life.
I was not well. At all. I had breast cancer. “I’m only 25? How am I going to meet a partner going through cancer?” I said, full of accusation and disbelief. A genuine question and at the highest of importance at the top of my list of endless questions. Swiftly ignored my surgeon in front of me with the shadow of the mammogram behind his shoulder. He began to speak. A lot of medical jargon or facts that I had to immediately absorb.
And with that, hearing the words “cancer” and”30% chance of survival”, suddenly all my pride in appearance and materialism disappeared. I would have a mastectomy, so my chest would go. Chemotherapy treatment would induce my hair to fall out and my self-esteem would be stripped down to a blank canvas.
The pain following the months of gruelling treatment would be intense. But the crippling anxiety that was teamed with the cancer, was the worst of all. I couldn’t express it, talk about or moreover DO anything about it. It was there, all the time. The cancer had been cut out, my breast removed and every cell in my chest, neck and arm zapped to death with radiotherapy. They were all treatable.
The anxiety was like no other I had ever experienced. Before I had cancer, I found a job interview or going on a date nerve-racking and scary. But now I could probably stroke a lion without any rise in blood pressure.
I felt out of control. After a year and a half of treatment I looked at myself in the mirror, my skin washed out grey, my hair a few inches long, grown back and thick. And my mind that no one could see: Transformed. Panic and stress would be a commonality when I woke up and cuddled into me like a teddy bear next to me as I fell asleep. It was horrid. Nothing could or would cure it.
Throughout my cancer, I managed to work, to date men from the internet and to glam myself up again. It was all very self-fulfilling. My mind may have been scared but I could live well with and after cancer. As long as I am aware of my feelings but do not allow them to stop me ‘living’ I feel content and can have some level of normality.
Cancer is like a grass stain. No matter how little or big the reminder never goes away. It’s such a media storm, a cloud that follows me. The difference is I have made myself begin to choose if the cloud would open to rain. Or hide behind bright enlightening sunshine. It really depended on my mood but also my determination to not let the illness define me.
For years I couldn’t say out loud “Cancer” I didn’t think it deserved a name. Like a hated ex-partner or former friend. But now? I happily will add a hashtag to the letters ‘cancer’ to gain public attention and to join in on the social media chat. Prior to this I was terrified of the word, the meaning and the invitation into a diseased focused conversation.
I deleted all social media profiles. Just in case, I was unlucky enough to catch a negative conversation or see the forbidden word ‘cancer’ in front of me.
I have learned over the past few years that it is indeed an urgent and poignant, constant conversation that is open and debatable by everyone. It keeps it real, current and treatable. Pretending it’s not there did not help me. It made me worse.
Living well with, and after cancer is a challenge. Drs told me I couldn’t work. And in words wouldn’t live. But I believed I could, so I did. I would wake up hurting physically and crying mentally but if the only thing I would do that day was going downstairs and turn the TV on I would do it. This led from TV, to walking to the station, to walking to the station to going on a date, to having a new and exciting relationship whilst going through cancer. Living my life, gave me a reason to live… well!
Annie Belasco is an army wife, author and writer from the heart of East London. She uses her funny, brutal honesty to convey on paper her positive experiences of mental health, cancer and dating. Regularly blogging for international health charities and organisations centred around empowering women and their families affected by trauma. Annie has been featured in national newspapers and most recently BBC Radio 4’s woman’s hour discussing dating with difficulty. Annie is determined inspire and toughen up stigma on mental health. Her memoir, My Mission for Love and Remission is
soon to be published with Trigger Press.