In 2017, at the age of 26, Megan was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. She is now in remission after receiving 6 months of chemotherapy treatment at the Royal Marsden in Surrey. Mental health was a very big part of her cancer experience and shares how lymphoma affected her mental health and identity.
LYMPHOMA & IDENTITY
"The main things that affected my mental health were: the beginning of treatment ( the unknown uncertainty of the journey), my sleeping patterns (due to side effects and anxiety levels), the feeling of isolation & what people would think, hair loss & appearance and how I would adapt to my life after treatment.
From the beginning of my lymphoma diagnosis, I knew it wasn't going to be a walk in the park. I had never experienced this before & so there was so much of the unknown to come. Part of my anxiety was having no control over the situation ahead and so my thoughts reflected on my behaviours throughout.
I could let it consume me OR I could take control and not let cancer take over my identity or my life
Much of what I had been feeling was to do with my self esteem, my treatment side effects caused my hair to fall out along with my eyebrows and eyelashes. This was difficult to cope with and like any other person going through chemotherapy, it is hard to accept. I started losing my hair after my first cycle which was devastating to watch but it was also the first time I felt I could turn this journey into a form of empowerment. I could let it consume me OR I could take control and not let cancer take over my identity or my life. This was when I braved the shave! I went to the hairdressers & asked them to shave my hair after explaining my situation. I found, once you explain to people what you are going through, there is so much understanding. The hairdresser shaved my hair for free and it was done within 10 minutes. My sister also decided to cut her hair to donate to the Little Princess Trust with was such a supportive thing to do. Yes, it was an emotional day.
I felt like my identity was taken away BUT it empowered me to move forward.
It was just hair, that would come back within time & the wigs that I had along the way, gave me such a confidence boost- I even bought a purple one which allowed me to get creative and wacky with my hair! When we got home from the hairdressers, we decided to create a fundraising page for Cancer Research. For me, it was able taking control and turning a negative into a positive. I thought of all the research and other people I could help just by raising a certain amount of money from shaving my hair- and boy, did we raise money! We raised over £2,000 which was just incredible! It just showed how many people out there were kind enough to donate to our page and how many people are willing to help when you need it!
It made me realise that materialistic factors are not important if it means getting back your life.
My appearance worries were also to do with my eyelashes and eyebrows falling out. With this, I decided to use make up products on the days I felt good, to help with my confidence. There is no right or wrong way of dealing with things and therefore some people choose to wear make up, some choose not to. When I was feeling good, sometimes I would even ditch the make up and embrace the way I looked without my eyebrows and eyelashes. It gave me a silent confidence on these days, plus it made me realise that materialistic factors are not important if it means getting back your life. I hope you take this on board too!"
By Megan Rhodes