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.
"1 in 3 people living with cancer will experience a mental health problem"
Mental health was a very big part of my cancer journey, as it is for many others living with cancer all over the world.
It has been proven that 1 in 3 people living with cancer will experience a mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety disorders whether this is before, during or after treatment.
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.
Having cancer is definitely a rollercoaster of emotions
Going through treatment can sometimes cause you to feel very isolated. You have taken on a complete new life and journey which isn't one you would choose and so you ask yourself, why me? I asked myself this for a while but the answer to this question is - there is no way of knowing why or how. It took me a while to accept that, but I think once you have accepted this, it does make life easier inside your head. Having cancer is definitely a rollercoaster of emotions but something you must take on board is that, you should never feel guilty or ashamed of how you feel. Allowing yourself to feel these emotions helps you to get on the right path of mentality.
By doing activities I enjoyed, I was gaining some headspace which allowed me to feel normal
You may not be able to control who cancer targets, but you CAN control your actions towards it. That is where I started to rebuild my mental resilience towards treatment and life. I got referred onto psychological therapies team half way through my treatment, where I finally felt ready to gain my life back and speak about how I was feeling. This helped me to create goals each day, even if it was only to step outside the house for a walk around the block, it was something. Sometimes starting small is the start of something bigger. After a few months, I got into a routine of knowing when I would feel tired, a little bit sicky and not wanting to do much. On those days, I would just relax, watch an uplifting film, read an inspiring book or a fiction one to escape. By doing all of this, I was helping not only my physical state, but my mental state as well. By doing activities I enjoyed, I was gaining some headspace which allowed me to feel normal, to put aside my treatment life and just be me. On my good days, stepping outside, getting some fresh air and seeing the people I wanted to see helped my mentality so much. It helped me to feel uplifted, supported and normal. Most of the time, I would go out with my auntie to vent, cry, laugh and pig out on a tasty lunch, along with a dozen hot chocolates. It is important that you have support around you & a good, solid network of people to help you feel good! It is also very important to treat yourself with kindness & understanding! Sometimes, my goals would include walking up to Starbucks and treating myself to a hot chocolate. The power of a good hot drink works wonders, believe me!
There is so much support out there for you, especially for your mental health
There is so much support out there for you, especially for your mental health as a newly diagnosed cancer patient, whether this is your team of medical experts, counselling therapies, your friends & family or support groups or charities. I certainly could not have got through my journey without all of these! I was lucky enough to of had an incredible hospital team who ran around day in day out to help me feel as comfortable as possible during treatment, who made me smile and laugh when I wasn't feeling great and who made me feel like I could ring them up at anytime to seek advice and guidance. I was so grateful to them, and I will be from then onwards. My support group online was really helpful where I could ask advice about side effects, treatment and explore other people's stories. Many of whom, inspired me so much. Through this support group, I met up with a couple of people the same age as me, where we were able to help each other out on a regular basis and make friends for life. This allowed me to feel less alone whilst also allowing me turn my journey into something positive. Without this journey, I would not have met the amazing people I had met. Whilst I am not thankful for cancer, I am thankful it gave me the opportunity to meet inspiring people, with their own stories and who I can rely on long term.
Even though there are days where you may not feel like doing much, that is ok! Feel what you feel and don't question it.
For anyone who has been newly diagnosed or still facing their cancer journeys, you have got this! Even though there are days where you may not feel like doing much, that is ok! Feel what you feel and don't question it. On the days you feel motivated, call up a friend or family member to chat, go out for a long walk, attempt to do some yoga or Pilates, find a supportive group to involve yourself with, keep a journal to maintain your worries and thoughts, practice mindfulness or create a list of things you could do once treatment ends, give yourself routine (it allows you to feel productive, even if you don't do much!), help others ( it can help you to feel empowered and give you a purpose to keep going!) turn your bad experiences into good ones if you can and remember how far you have come!
By Megan Rhodes