Posted on Wednesday 5 February 2020

Michelle’s story – “I wish someone had told me that I didn’t have to stay strong or positive all the time”

I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in June 2017 after having gone back and forth to hospital for around a year.

Image of Michelle, a young person

When I was first diagnosed, I felt a huge amount of pressure to remain happy and positive for the people around me, especially my parents. Seeing the people around me suffer so much because I was sick was heart-breaking. I felt as though I always had to present myself in a positive light to make them feel better. I was joking and laughing, from my first day of treatment to the last.

Because I focussed so much on being positive, I didn’t give myself the chance to process my feelings. I tried to just push through everything and ignored feelings that I should have confronted from the beginning. I just didn’t want anyone to worry, so I bottled it up and kept pushing it back. Even now there are only a couple of people who know the full extent of how I felt during and after treatment.

I think I experienced survivor’s guilt from the moment I was diagnosed. Two years on, I still do. When I was told I was in remission, I wasn’t happy, I was just tired. I felt incredibly guilty because I was alive and surviving but others wouldn’t.

My mental health was at its worst after treatment ended. I felt really lost and stuck in time while everyone around me seemed to be moving forward. And when you’re in remission, naturally, the support dies down, so I felt like I had all these thoughts and emotions with nowhere to go.

The biggest thing that helped me was going to therapy – I felt heard and understood. If there’s ever a time you go to bed and don’t quite feel right, just keep trying. When I first started pursuing therapy, it took a few tries to find a therapist who understood how having cancer could affect my mental health, but I was able to find someone who did.

Therapy was hard, but (I had to remember) my therapist was there to help me. Every session was hard, but it all helps in the long-run.

Therapy really helped me process different feelings and emotions having cancer left me with. I’ve been able to connect with a lot of people over our therapy experiences – both my friends from CLIC Sargent and my friends in general. Therapy teaches you how to communicate well with others.

If I could go back, I would tell myself to just let myself feel everything – all the anger and frustration, the sadness and fear. I wish someone had told me that I didn’t have to stay strong or positive all the time while I was receiving treatment. That it was ok to cry, or to miss my hair, or to be bitter and angry. That fear is a natural response. I think therapy helps you get that.

I’m still doing everything I can to process my emotions in a safe and healthy environment, and learning to trust my body again after it failed me is something I really struggle with.

Every day things get a bit easier as I learn what my new normal is. Some days are tougher than others – but I’m finally at a point where I feel I’ve gained more than I lost from cancer.

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