I felt painfully angry about being involved in a chronic illness and out of control of my health.
I am over 80 and a long-retired medic. Early in January 2012 my breast cancer diagnosis was made promptly, and treated with surgery, tamoxifen and a course of radiotherapy . After radiotherapy I had a follow-up appointment in Oncology some months later. This turned out to be the first of a number (still not revealed) of annual follow-ups. Meanwhile I was invited to a specialist nurse-led group meeting. We were given a carefully designed leaflet. Topics covered included exercise, diet, lose some weight, body image, sex life, risk of lymphoedema and what to do. All very good advice but I seemed unable to take it in for months, though I was living healthily and getting considerable physical benefit from regular exercise and significant loss of weight.
The treatment was much less trouble than I expected, but I felt mysteriously mentally distressed, a finding that I had not anticipated and found very worrying. I felt painfully angry about being involved in a chronic illness and out of control of my health. My anger also involved fear of a recurrence and of dying quite soon. I was ashamed of my feelings but in retrospect I was in denial about the facts that I looked up. At my first oncology follow-up appointment I denied any psychological problem. I had not then discovered how common it is to have such feelings.
I was very concerned about my prognosis but did not explain well and did not get a useful answer from the oncologist when I asked why chemotherapy had not been offered, although there is a simple explanation.
Even after I discovered that mental distress is very common among people after a diagnosis of cancer, I continued with some denial for several months, believing only some of what I read from good quality sources. When I later realised this I found that the realisation damages one’s self confidence and that that takes some time to overcome.
Much of my problem has been my idea that my treatment had been ‘easy’ because of my age. I felt left out and under treated and spent months grumbling to myself and to some of my friends. I now believe that this was a completely wrong concept.
I was lucky to join a local HOPE (How to Overcome Problems Effectively) course consisting of seven sessions similar to group therapy with exercises in various calming techniques. The well run HOPE course worked very well for me. I was able to understand that other people had similar reactions so that I could stop feeling so psychologically abnormal. We had shared experiences and we helped each other.
At about the same time I had a few counselling sessions. These were also helpful because we identified my problem with anger which I hadn’t previously recognised although I find that my family know it well.
I would have liked to be given more information about the results of treatment, my prognosis and a future management plan, preferably written, or even websites to assist my personal research. I might not have been able to take it in during the early months, but such information could have been offered again at later follow-up appointments until I could say that I didn’t need it.