I consider myself a tough person. I can handle stressful situations and hard topics in the moment with steeled nerves and a calm demeanor. It was no different when I was told I had 8 months of hard cancer treatment (which then became 3.5 years). I immediately went into action mode. I sucked it up and dealt with it. Just kept moving, one foot in front of the other. So, I did - through months of hard chemotherapy.
Therapy was mentioned to me early in my cancer journey. I was even given a recommendation for a cancer therapist, but I thought: why would I need that? I am strong. I am determined. I have a loving support system. On top of it all, I was almost done with my 16 chemotherapy sessions. What would be the point?
During one of my last infusions, a fellow Tuesday morning chemo friend told me about her recent experience with a cancer therapist. Her therapy focused on expectations for the next steps of her treatment, how to make sure her children remained in a good place, and how to maintain intimacy with her husband so that he would continue to see her as his partner, not a sick person. I decided then and there I was going to give it a try, and I am eternally grateful I did.
My therapy sessions were not the cliched visions I feared: deep dives into my past, sobbing while clutching a box of Kleenex. They were game plans of how to handle three small kids after surgery, a sounding board for major decisions I was facing in my treatment, and a safe space to say some of the scary thoughts in my head I dare not mention to those whom I loved, and loved me. I did my sessions virtually and in-person, depending on how I was feeling. I immediately noticed I felt less anxious, more prepared, and as calm as I could be while fighting for my life. One of the biggest blessings of my therapist is that she too was a cancer survivor. She knew exactly how it felt to face down a diagnosis. Having someone intimately aware of cancer and its effect on your mental state, family dynamics, and marriage was so incredibly valuable.
As my healing journey took twists and turns, so did my therapy. Each meeting was acutely focused on what was best for me to move forward at that moment, to always be focused on being fully healed, and to make sure I never lost the perspective I had gained. A survivor told me early on in my treatment that cancer is not a physical battle, but a mental one. I only now fully appreciate the gravity of that statement.
Don’t make it harder on yourself! Find a therapist that specializes in cancer. When you find a great provider, therapy isn’t a scary, emotionally draining experience, it’s a positive step to staying ahead of common issues so you can move forward positively. See them as a guide through treatment so you can avoid common pitfalls, have a trusted neutral ear, and draw from their experience counseling many others with cancer. Stats point out that the majority of personal challenges arise after cancer treatment, so it’s best to stay ahead of issues.
Some quick notes: