When you are done with active treatment, you essentially ‘graduate’ from what seems like around the clock medical care and you are dropkicked out of Cancerland and back into the land of the living. If you are lucky, your hospital system has a Survivorship Program, which can be quite helpful, but for all intents and purposes, you are on your own, babe.
It was suggested, around diagnosis, that I see a therapist. Now, I am a girl who likes her therapy. I have seen therapists on and off throughout my life. In fact, I had a therapist that I really liked when I was diagnosed, but someone suggested I see a cancer-specific therapist, so I transferred to a practice that specializes in seeing people going through treatment. The name of the practice was “Illness Navigation Resources.” Awesome.
Unlike my delightful therapist who I was already seeing, none of the therapists at Illness Navigation Resources take insurance. I went with it anyway because, you know, cancer. After a few sessions at $150 a pop, that therapist moved away. I was too broken down at that point to do anything about it, so all therapy ceased.
I will also mention here that it was also suggested that I see a psychiatrist, an MD who can prescribe meds. This had a dual function. This doc could help with depression/anxiety management, but could also understand the eccentricities of taking anti-depression drugs while on Tamoxifen, which is actually quite complicated as Tamoxifen loses effectiveness when taken with many anti-depressants.
When I was going through chemo, there was a social worker who would occasionally duck into the room and ask ‘how was I doing?’ In my case, there were usually a bunch of people in the room with me and I came across as rather well-functioning so these convos never went anywhere. I hope that they helped other cancer patients tremendously, it was just not the case in my experience.
I told myself that as soon as I ‘graduated,’ I would get a therapist again.
Even though all it would take was a couple of emails/phone calls and a look at my schedule, I put it off for weeks, months. I was totally fine right?
Life went on, I put one foot in front of the other. I diverted attention through blonde mohawks and endless child rearing. And despite everything that happened, I was able to power ahead and move right along with life outside of Cancerland.
The problem was, that I was sweeping tiny pieces of cancer trauma under the proverbial rug. No need to think about that stuff, I was okay now! Plus I was seeing the psychiatrist regularly- that counted as therapy, right?
Wrong. The psychiatrist talked to me about my feelings for about 15 minutes every two months then asked if I needed more Clonazepam. The answer to that is, YES PLEASE, always yes.
Sometime over the summer the psychiatrist asked me how my therapist was. I had to admit that I wasn’t seeing one. She was not happy with me (no Clonazepam for YOU!). She made me promise I would get a therapist before my next appointment with her.
It was an easy search since there is only one practice that takes my insurance. Unfortunately, my old therapist was no longer available so I had to start over. I reluctantly walked myself back to the couch and started talking.
Even though she knew about the cancer, we ended up talking about my childhood and all that therapy mumbo-jumbo for the first few months. As much as I would like to blame this on the therapist, I knew I was leading the conversation and I was driving us in the opposite direction of Cancerland.
A few weeks ago I decided to bite the bullet and tell the therapist that it was time to start talking about the Canc. She suggested we start at the beginning and I should just tell her the story starting with diagnosis.
Within the first 20 minutes I was utilizing the tissues that had been sitting beside me for all those tear-less sessions. This is what I had been avoiding. I have told this story in various versions hundreds of times, but this was different because I was telling it to myself. It wasn’t topical, it was tactile.
The session turned out to be so emotional that my therapist told me to expect to feel drained for the rest of the day and to ‘treat myself’ to something special. She did not hand me any cash for this endeavor just FYI. My ‘something special’ was laying in bed and eating copious amounts of my kid’s Halloween candy.
So I’ve officially started processing. We have made it to the day before my mastectomy. I have a long way to go. Just when you think it’s over, it starts all over again.
Please don’t ever expect someone who has walked this walk to ‘get over it’ or ‘move on’. It is like our shadow. Not always visible, but in the right light, all too real.