Nichole O.

How to Identify What You Need

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I just kept pushing forward. I quickly decided on my treatment plan, shared the news with my family and informed my work that I would be back “to normal” in one month. Let’s just say I was wrong.

At one month out from a double mastectomy with reconstruction, I was just starting to put shirts on over my head again without wincing in pain. I was just allowed to pick up my then two-year old son. I was just getting ready for chemo.

After chemo came another reconstruction surgery, followed by the start of hormone suppression therapy, and then - then - I went back to work. But, it didn’t feel normal.

I ignored the ache in my stomach that wanted something different for myself - that feeling that I hadn’t gone through this for nothing - that there had to be more. Until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

I couldn’t process what I needed though by myself - so I asked for help. I hired a life coach and with her guidance it became abundantly clear that I needed to give back to the cancer community of which I was now a part. And not just as a volunteer - I needed to immerse myself into it. It was my calling.

Despite having some clarity on my professional direction, I never really dealt with the emotions that came with a cancer diagnosis. My hurried approach to getting back to normal didn’t allow me that space. So, I’ve carved it out over time. It comes in spurts and waves.

Sometimes the things I verbalize surprise me. Like, the fact when I told a friend the loss of control I have with how my body looks impacts my self esteem - because on some level, I’ve always tied my confidence to my physical appearance. 

I find myself thinking sometimes when I put my son to sleep that I should record his lullaby so I can still sing to him if something were to happen to me. And then that thought becomes too much and I pull myself from the darkness.

A little while ago, I thought I was simply venting to my husband about a side effect of my medication. I told him how frustrating it was to stare in the closet and not be able to recall what I had walked there to get just a minute ago. Instead of fainting empathy, he put out his arms and said “come here.”

He hugged me and said it was OK - and my walls just came down. I didn’t know I needed to cry about my frustration until he created a space for it to be OK to do.

So now, instead of pushing to get back to normal, I try and take a few minutes at some point during the day to recognize how I’m feeling, acknowledge it and either address it or let it go. Sometimes simply recognizing your feelings is enough - at least for now.