Well, didn’t I laugh and judge and gossip about it. Although, I did admit, and still do, that she rocks the shaved head but I am honest in saying I was one of the many who judged this poor girl. I had no idea that something can happen in your life, in your brain, to create such a self destructive act, a cry for help.
Everyone, including myself, thought that my life was just plodding along fine and dandy. What could be wrong now that I was now a ‘cancer survivor’, I wasn’t having any further cancer treatment. I had hair again, hair I could even style. Surgery was on the cards for a new boob, weight was being lost….. wedding plans were happening.
Now……… well, here I am after MY Britney Breakdown.
It turns out that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a real thing following cancer treatment. PTSD symptoms are different for each person and apparently, they usually develop within three months of a traumatic event but can also occur several months, even years later. For me, it was six months following the end of the cancer treatment. One would expect, after that amount of time, me to be happy ‘its over’ and on the road to ‘getting back to normal’ now that I don’t have to have any further cancer treatment. These expectations are not the case. Here is how it all unfolded…..
- Aropax (Anti-Depressant and Anti-Anxiety Medication) 60mg
- Tamoxifen (a synthetic drug used to treat breast cancer) 20mg
- Avymys (works to decrease inflammation caused by allergy) 55 micrograms
- Fish Oil (Helps to maintain strong bones) 1000mg
- Duromine (Appetite Suppressant) 30 mg
- Panadene Forte (Pain Killers)
- Paracetamol 500 mg
- Codeine phosphate 30 mg
- Telfast (relieve the symptoms of hayfever) 180mg
- Vitamin D Liquid (Strengthen Bones) 1000IU
- Caltrate Calcium (Strengthen Bones)
Expectations (Beyond the normal day to day ones)
- Lose a lot of weight in preparation for surgery – Breast Surgeon
- Increase heart rate for a mininum of 30 days to prevent cancer returning – Oncologist
- Stop smoking to prevent cancer coming back or developing a new one – Everyone (I did this one!)
- Reduce or stop drinking alcohol to prevent cancer coming back – A lot of people
- Reduce or stop sugar to prevent cancer coming back and to assist in losing weight – Some People
- Continue to be strong – Me
- Move on from cancer – Many people and myself
- Stop talking about cancer – A few people
- Have life return to pre cancer normal – A lot of people/myself
Upcoming Events Needing Thought and Action
- Christmas gift buying
It seems I wasn’t coping with post cancer as well as I thought I was. I saw myself as a cancer patient, not a cancer survivor. I think I still do as a matter of fact but anyway, I was on a path of self destruction. Drinking too much, taking all of the above medication, I took up smoking (as previously discussed) and I wonder, did I do all of this to block out the self chatter in my head or to gain the attention some people feel I was seeking? I don’t know that answer but hopefully in time, I will find out.
The Day of my Britney Effect
I had a cold. No big deal right but it seems that it actually was a big deal. On top of all of the medications listed above, I was now about to add in 10 mls of cough medicine which would turn out to be the straw that broke the camels back (I am the camel).
My memory is vivid when I recall taking the small amount of medicine and within about 10 minutes or so, I became obsessed, almost manic in my thoughts. All I could think about was getting home from work, enjoying some sparkling wine (I had booked the following day off from work for some R&R) and not having to go to bed early. I knew I was meeting up with a lovely friend Nicole who was going to give my lovely locks a trim and then catching up with my 30+ year friend Tracey for a long overdue lunch.
I was only successful in one of my thoughts becoming an action and that was buying a bottle of my favourite Jacobs Creek Trilogy sparkling wine on the way home from work. I must say, that bottle disappeared real bloody quick and before I knew it, I was off to the bottleshop for another bottle.
This is where things get a little hazy. I vaguely remember saying goodnight to Sam when he went to bed. I vaguely remember playing some of my favourite games on facebook but then my memory is blank.
Before I know it, I am waking the next day and my hair is gone. I feel sick to my stomach and wonder what on earth happened. Where is my hair!? Somewhere deep in my brain I know it was myself that had cut it but why? How much did I cut.
Yep, all of it. Looking in the mirror when I got up was like a punch to the stomach. I could barely breathe, my hair had been cut in a drunken, manic manner. Some cuts were to the scalp and cuts were not so short and left tufts sticking out.
These tears continued for two days! TWO DAYS! I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t eat, decisions were impossible…..I couldn’t cope. And it really wasn’t even about the hair to be honest. I was so lost, confused.
I hit rock bottom.
I was suddenly aware that life wasn’t what I thought it would be after cancer. In fact, it was so much harder coping with life after cancer than it was during cancer. Do you think that is weird?
During cancer my life was taken care of by everyone but me.
- GP – Tells me I have cancer and proceeds to book me in to see a surgeon immediately
- Surgeon – Tells me he is the captain of the ship and it is his job to save my life. Then provides me with an Oncologist for the next step
- Sam – Takes on all responsibilities of getting me too and from all appointments, provides my medications, fluids, foods, hugs and kisses. Cleans house, ensures I shower, sleep, wake, rest, laugh, changes linen on regular basis….
- Mum – delivers flowers to my house weekly upon her visits
- Nurses – Provide all of the compassion, caring and patience needed during hospital stays, chemotherapy treatments, radiation treatments, scans, blood tests,
- Oncologist – Prepares a schedule of chemotherapy treatments, blood tests, herceptin treatments and provides me with a Radiologist
- Radiologist – Schedules all of my radiation treatments, sees me on a weekly basis to check my radiation wounds, provide input on creams and treatments for healing
- Radiographers – Tell me where and how to lay on the bed in preparation for treatment, count down via speakers for holding my breath when the radiation occurs, help me off the bed and have lovely chats with me about my dogs and life
- Friends and Family – These amazing people do all of the visiting me, calling and texting and emailing me to check up to see I am doing ok, to fill me in on their lives, to make me smile and fill my house with flowers and cards and gifts
- Private Health Insurance – Pays many of the bills received from having this disease
- Income Insurance – Pays me 75% of my wage each month
- The Bank – reduces the mortgage payments to assist in our treatment costs
After cancer – Where is everyone?
- I was hugged and waved goodbye by the beautiful and amazing nurses at oncology on my last day of Herceptin
- Hair grows back and I no longer look ill therefore, am expected to get on with life as normal
- Normal doesn’t come along as easy as I thought
- Banks and other billing companies are no longer so accommodating if bills are late due to ongoing financial burdens because, cancer treatment has finished
- There are no more cards and flowers
- No more nurses to make you smile and compare stories of the weekends with
- There is nothing very interesting to talk about anymore
- Fatigue and vagueness are still in my life
- Surgeon is no longer so cuddly and caring but is now demanding and stern
- I’m not skinny from cancer treatment like those in movies and TV shows
- I am not needed by the cancer community anymore
- People aren’t contacting me about their friends or family who have been diagnosed with this illness for me to help them, to talk to them, provide advice and friendship…..
Step 1 – Phone the Cancer Council day Friday 28/10/2016, 1 day after beginning of break down, and receive emergency counselling over the phone and book a face to face session. Confirm there is no risk of self harm and be unable to manage any part of a conversation without crying. Find out about PTSD, Survivor Guilt, Fear of Further Cancer, Loss of Identity…….. there are so many issues, mental heath problems, that can occur after cancer treatment has finished. It isn’t always easy to become a cancer survivor and ‘just get on with things’.
Step 2 – Phone Lisa at the Lobethal Hair Studio to fix the mess and destruction on my head. Find it impossible to stop crying the whole time I’m there. Listen to words of wisdom and good advice. Having someone who knows me so well that knows, it isn’t really about the hair……….. it is more than that.
Step 3 – Attend GP for further emergency assistance. GP proceeds to take away ALL medications and alcohol except 20mg of Tamoxifen (1 tablet for assistance in preventing further cancer) each night and 10mg of Lexipro (Anti Anxiety Medication) each morning. If I develop a headache at anytime, I am to take nothing stronger than panadol. GP books fortnightly catch ups but advises me to attend the surgery anytime between appointments if I fall apart or it gets too much again. The reason for the alcohol being stopped is because now I have no more hair, what happens if I ‘blackout’ again? I have no more hair to chop off and next time could be a lot more dangerous eg: getting in to a car, walking the streets (there are a few lakes and dams around Meadows) etc….
So, it has now been two weeks since this ‘all went down’. Some days I cruise through and other days, I am fighting to swim against my current of tears…… Nothing sets me off into the spiral of sadness and it is hard to find something to drag me out of it, try as I might.
I am thankful for some incredibly amazing people who have made it their priority to ensure I know they’re there for me. I want to thank
- my amazing managers for letting me blubber my way through some attempt at explaining what was wrong with me,
- for my Bulldog Veronica for fielding all queries about me, shuffling people away from me, standing up for me, protecting me,
- Vanessa who sends the loveliest words which are so genuine and kind, caring and thoughtful,
- TK for becoming my ‘stalker’ by sending texts filled with ridiculous world laws, funny photos of her little man Zander, memes of feelings, all while struggling with her own illness and sadness’
- Tamara, my amazing friend and cousin who has been there before, during and after all of the cancer bizzo sending me her ‘minimum of three things to be grateful/thankful for’ each day and for accepting mine.
- My Mum for bringing flowers and smiles yet again for this new event in her eldest daughters life.
- My incredible in laws to be for their hugs and understanding in a certain matter (they know what I am talking about) and for their constant undying love for me
- John and Clare Mannion for listening and offering lovely words
- My work colleagues for putting up with me shuffling around from floor to floor to hide from the world for a while
- The Cancer Council of South Australia on Greenhill Road
- My friends and family who have, and are, allowing me to cancel all dinner, party and catch up confirmations to deal with this issue
- That incredible, amazing, loving, supportive, cuddly, funny, compassionate man of mine Sam. Yes, he was angry initially not knowing what on earth was going on with me and thinking I’d gone on a bender looking for attention. That thought didn’t last long, he realised pretty quickly there was more to it. Sam was there for me taking me to the GP for emergency help and also joined me for counselling at the Cancer Council.
I will leave you with some bullshit comments that some people felt the need to say (weather to me or someone else)
- What on earth did you do to your beautiful hair? It was looking really good! It really was so lovely and curly (my note: it was not curly ok!?) and so pretty. Why would you get rid of that?
- My side note on this comment – This comment was made to my face by someone who is an associate, not a friend, not a family member but they felt they had the right and need to tell me that my hair looked terrible. I wonder, how would they feel if someone went to them and told them their recent hair cut looked terrible and why didn’t they just leave their hair as it was?
- She is obviously just wanting more attention
- My side note on this comment – Um, really? Thanks! I think most people would understand it goes a little deeper than this
- Why on earth would she have ‘issues’? Isn’t her cancer finished? What is her problem now?
- My side note on this comment – Firstly, cancer doesn’t FINISH. Secondly, unless you have had such a horrible, emotional, physical event such as this, do not assume you know what it is like ‘once the cancer has finished’ as you put it
The comments I LOVED and heard from a few people were
- I’m not sure why you cut your hair but I LOVE IT! It really suits you
- This comment was awesome because I didn’t have to explain why I cut my hair, I wasn’t made to feel ugly, stupid, crazy or weird.
- I don’t meant to overstep any boundaries but I want to ask because I’m worried…. you don’t have cancer again/you haven’t started chemo again have you?
- These questions were honest, real, true and there was no other meaning to them other than what was said.
To be continued ………………………..