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I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. I knew it was cancer straightaway and when they told me the news in my first appointment I was almost relieved. Because I just knew.
I was operated on two weeks later and my treatment lasted three years. It was pretty hideous. I think the hardest part was the lack of control. Most things in your life you can control but not cancer. That just makes you lose your confidence, makes you re-evaluate everything in your life – your relationships.
My relationships with everyone changed. It was probably about a year after the initial diagnosis and I was really struggling. So I went to the doctor and was prescribed tablets but they’re not great. There was a lot of emotion I needed to deal with and just having tablets that suppressed those emotions wasn’t really the idea.
After trying a couple of other counsellors that I didn’t find helpful I came across We Hear You (then PAC) and the counselling there was so helpful. She didn’t just sit there and say you’ve done amazing (as other counsellors had done); she asked about the relationships I had with people around me and my feelings about the cancer rather than saying how amazing I was doing.
It was much more understanding of how you have no control with cancer, there’s nothing you can do. It was just someone to talk things through with, about how I was feeling without them saying ah but you’ve done so well. It was really acknowledging how I felt, not giving me any solutions or telling me how I can make it better but just listening and acknowledging how I was feeling and delving into why I was feeling like that.
It helped so much that the counsellors specialise in people who have cancer.
My husband was diagnosed with eye cancer in 2001 and passed away after a 12 year battle.
When we initially found out we were both in pieces and emotionally very, very raw but I didn’t think I had the right to have support. So Mack got all the support and I just continued to hold onto all my feelings.
He had his eye removed, came home and recovered and he went for lots of counselling and support and I meanwhile tried to carry on with my life, which was quite hard.
After a period of being clear, the cancer returned and gradually the disease progressed over eleven years and right at the end, in the eleventh year someone said to me, ‘Pam, have you ever had any support?’ and I said ‘no, I haven’t’. Someone recommended We Hear You (then PAC) and I started going when Mack was dying.
It was brilliant that it got me through that very, very traumatic period when I really needed to let go and splurge, but I deeply wish I’d had some counselling earlier because of the range of emotions you go through.
I felt so guilty, I got mad, I felt sad, the whole range of emotions, and so I think a service that supports everyone, that can support the ‘carer’ is so valuable because then you can be with the person that’s got the illness in a more authentic way. I think when you shut down your emotions other unwanted emotions surface and I think that’s what happened with me.
To kind of hold it all together, I put a lid on things and I don’t think that’s very healthy. The main thing was to just have someone there to listen to me because it’s a chance to just splurge really and at that point when I went, Mac was in hospital and literally at the end.
It was great to have somewhere to escape to from the hospital, to go and talk about what was going on. For me it’s this idea of being heard without anyone necessarily judging you, and because of that I was able to walk taller and dig deep in myself and think about what I needed and stop worrying about what everyone else needed. It was really important.