“I came to know that I could say whatever I needed to and the person sitting opposite wasn’t going to be shocked or upset but would instead help me find my way through it and out the other side.” In the first of three blogs about her experience of ovarian cancer, Sarah tells us about her treatment and the support she received during chemotherapy.
I had an amazing surgical team, skilled and really generous with their time and support. Even though this stage was incredibly challenging due to complications, I always felt safe with them- there was a great deal of trust and respect and I will never be able to thank them enough for all that they did.
My chemotherapy period by contrast was difficult for me – this hospital felt like a factory and I felt like I had been put onto a production-line. I was told I wouldn’t have many side effects but it turned out I had a lot and many were quite severe; my white blood cell count was hit really hard straight away, throughout and afterwards it remains compromised.
I had considerable fatigue and also chemo brain – I lost words, found processing thoughts and concentrating increasingly difficult. I'm not sure how much was chemotherapy and how much was the trauma of it all but I am still experiencing some improvements even after two years which leaves me hopeful for the future.
It was a very anxious time and I worried to start with that this was my personal failing, that I wasn’t being strong enough. The chemotherapy team had said that many frail, older ladies just had flu-like symptoms and for only the weekend. But for me it was awful and the side effects lasted a lot longer each time. I put on nearly three stone in the four months (I’d been a steady size 12 all my adult life) and when every part of who you identify as you has been hit so hard, this seemed too much.
When I finished chemo with a good outcome everyone else around me was simply delighted that I was alive. I felt shallow that I was feeling so sad about how drastically my capabilities had been affected, sorry for putting on weight and wasn’t feeling at all optimistic about life after the treatment ended. I’d had a struggle to recover from the physical effects of the surgery but had been given advice and support with this. I didn’t know what to do with the chemotherapy or how to cope with the side effects and felt very much left to deal with it on my own so in many ways it was much, much harder.
I believe that talking therapy can work well and I recognised that I might need some support to deal with the impact of the diagnosis. I asked my CNS and she referred me after surgery to see a fantastic oncology psychologist (there is this type of support available but you often have to ask for it). It meant that all these difficult feelings could start to come out; during surgery you just have to get through it so I had suppressed them in order to cope. For me, this support was a lifeline.
I saw the psychologist every three weeks just before each chemo cycle and it kept me sane and enabled me to complete the chemotherapy! I absolutely believe I might have gone under without seeing him and I was able to say out loud and without judgement the things that I couldn’t tell anyone else, the darkest of thoughts. I came to know that I could say whatever I needed to and the person sitting opposite wasn’t going to be shocked or upset but would instead help me find my way through it and out the other side.
- Read Sarah's second blog: When so much happens, it changes you
- Read Sarah's third blog: It was so incredibly important to discover that I wasn’t on my own