Posted on Thursday 3 October 2019

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’s 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. 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.

But it’s something that gets easier with time. I poured myself into music, picked up old hobbies and tried new ones. The biggest thing that helped me was going to therapy – I felt heard and understood.

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. That it was ok to cry, or to miss my hair, or to be bitter and angry. That fear is a natural response.

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. But every day things get a bit easier as I learn what my new normal is.

I try and treat myself the way I would treat someone else, with kindness. 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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