Healing Through Feeling: Cancer and Mental Health

Healing Through Feeling: Cancer and Mental Health

Cancer scars our insides and outsides, but it’s hard to know which it affects more. Cancer affects the body, but the impact of treatment — from chemotherapy to radiotherapy to immunotherapy to stem cell transplants — is highly psychological.

My body is slowly healing, but the hardest and most taxing aspect of recovery has been healing my mind.

The post-treatment period is difficult for patients. Much of the support they received during treatment wanes or disappears as people carry on with their lives. Patients are expected to return to their old selves, but survivors know it doesn’t work like that. In the aftermath of treatment, we are left to deal with the remnants of who we have become.

I was in “survival mode” during transplant. The effects of chemotherapy were so visceral, so physically intense, that there was no time to dwell on the subconscious or emotional pain. My internal wounds only bared their teeth once my body began to repair itself.

The psychological trauma of facing something as big as cancer is no small wound. I tried to run from it all — the grief of relapsing, of losing my mother at the same time, of going through seemingly endless cycles of chemotherapy only to be told the treatment wasn’t working; the loss of my hair, fertility, libido, and health. Psychosomatic symptoms can be frequent. All the painful experiences I’ve suppressed have manifested in a colossal tornado of emotions.

I’m home. I’m starting to regain some energy, and tiny hairs are (finally!) beginning to sprout. There’s nowhere left to run or hide, so there’s nothing to do but feel.

I’ve learned that when it comes to feelings, the only way out is through. Suppressing my emotions leads to uncontrollable outbursts of anger or an emotional breakdown in a busy restaurant because I can’t decide what to order (this is a hypothetical example). Feelings demand to be felt. Running is futile. We can try to drink, eat, or binge-watch them away, but they’re persistent little buggers.

I’ve come face-to-face with my trauma over the past two months. There have been many tears and a whole lot of lying awake at 3 a.m. But I’ve also been learning how to deal with my emotions in a more constructive (ahem, adult) way. Storyteller Brené Brown says, “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”

Therapy has been my lifeboat. I’m a firm believer in the cathartic power of conversation. I’ve also been journaling, not for the public but for myself, to express what I’m feeling. Meditation and positive affirmations, reading every night before bed as I did as a child, and learning something new — in my case, French — have helped me cope with my emotions and slowly start to recover.

At the end of the day, addressing our past is a bridge to healing our minds and bodies. By acknowledging our emotional pain, we are able to let go of the story and move forward. This doesn’t mean forgetting. We will never forget. But it does mean starting a new chapter.

I’ll leave you with this powerful quote by psychoanalysis pioneer Carl Jung: “There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion.”


Note: Lymphoma News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lymphoma News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lymphoma.

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