Confidence & Cancer

Before my terminal cancer diagnosis I was a fairly confident girl. I had a successful career, which I loved and a slightly bossy nature at work. I was very lucky to have met my soulmate relatively early in my life and had slipped into a loving married life very easily. I enjoyed socialising with my friends. I was well supported by a close knit family. I really was very fortunate to have such a stable, normal life. It had not always been easy and I had battled with confidence throughout my teenage years and early twenties. This was in part due to bullying at school and never quite feeling like I fit in at University initially, but once I hit my late twenties I really was starting to feel settled and confident both professionally and personally.

Then in one fail swoop all that confidence that I had gradually built up over several years was taken away when I discovered I had cancer. I felt unexplainably ashamed. I felt guilty. I felt frightened. My sense of ‘me’ was destroyed almost immediately and the wind had been completely knocked out of my sails. I went into hiding, both physically in a side room in hospital and emotionally, choosing to confide in only a few people who were close to me. I remember being so distressed by the thought of the rumour mill working overtime about my illness, not that anyone would be anything other than concerned. I just did not want to be public gossip story number one. The whole situation was not helped by the fact I was an in-patient in a hospital where I had spent two years of my working life. Everytime I was wheeled off for yet another procedure I risked being seen by someone I knew. The thought of having to explain what was happening in these awkward situations quite literally petrified me so much I used to feel physically sick when I had to leave the safety of my side room.

My self confidence was not helped by the fact that the cancer and its treatment mutilated me physically. I ended up with bilateral nephrostomies for over four months, I lost all my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, the steroids changed the shape of my face, my nails fell off and I developed that sallow skin that ill people have. It was a huge struggle to leave the house to go anywhere other than the hospital during this time. Very few people ever saw me without a hat on. I was definitely not one of those cancer patients who was bald and proud of it. I was still ashamed and still guilty.

My life took an unexpected turn when after deciding to stop chemotherapy and go back to work as I was encouraged by some close friends and colleagues to publish my diary detailing my experiences during diagnosis and treatment. Within a couple of weeks I was selling hundreds of books and making thousands of pounds for charity. This gave me such a boost. People seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say and reading all the lovely, personal messages people had taken the time to write set me on the path to building my self confidence back up from nothing. The press became interested in my story. There were photoshoots, radio interviews and television appearances. At first I was a complete nervous wreck interacting with the media but gradually over time as my confidence has returned I have even started to enjoy it. I don’t even bat an eyelid at appearing on our local regional television news programme now.

Going back to work was good for me. I think although we would not like to admit it, many doctors are defined to some extent by their profession and I was certainly in this category. But again I was so timid setting foot back in the hospital for the first time. Would I be able to function? What would my patients think? These fears have subsided over time especially as my physical appearance has returned to something approaching ‘normal’ and I realised that I still could offer something professionally. I never used to enjoy giving presentations, but the requests to speak at various events locally, regionally and even nationally started to come. I forced myself to engage with these and share my story. As a result I have become desensitised from feeling nervous in these situations and even quite enjoy giving talks now.

So in some ways I am far more confident now than I ever was before my diagnosis. Cancer has changed my life completely and the road from rock bottom to where I am now has been a bumpy one, but I am glad I have managed to stick with it and not let the horrendous situation I find myself in depress or isolate me socially. I am lucky in so many ways to have such a supportive network of wonderful people around me who have all played their part in rebuilding almost my whole sense of ‘me’.

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8 thoughts on “Confidence & Cancer

  1. Your courage and determination shines out of your books Kate and in this essay . You give us all with cancer hope and encouragement and a determination ,like yourself ,to carry on working ,playing and enjoying the life we have ,as far as we are able to the full..

  2. Hi Kate, Having just read your blog post has really given me the boost I needed to get on with my workshops and stop being scared so thankyou. I have developed the Chillmama Workshop for mid life women who are wondering what they are here for. I use a combination of hypnotherapy and Nlp to demonstrate that they have their own identity and are not “just” a mum, wife or carer to elderly parents. I was a bit scared about putting myself out there and open to critisism but in my very small way compared to yours I am hoping to show these ladies that they can achieve anything they set out to do and give them the tools to do it. Regards, Anita Tully

  3. Thanks for this Kate…we are ‘interested in what you have to say’ because you are so honest and say things so well. As others have said you are an inspiration to many and I wish you well. PS hope you enjoyed those afternoon pastries today?

  4. Thanks Kate read both books today and thank goodness found this blog so I know you are still with us. You are inspiring I’m in the same boat with metastatic breast cancer. Admire your optimism, something I need right now… thank you!

  5. I think many of us are defined by the professions we have chosen and when we are unable to fulfill them we feel we aren’t contributing meaningfully so lose self esteem. As a society we focus on occupation. It’s one of the first questions in social situations. ‘Hi, what is your name and what do you do?’.,it’s evident on television; watch Mastemind.

  6. Pingback: Confidence & Cancer | johnniebasicinstruction

  7. When I had a stroke in my 20’s I was treated at a hospital and then at a rehab centre where I’d done placements as a student (in an allied health profession) less than 10 years prior. One of the nurses treating me in hospital was someone I went to primary school with, and someone I went through uni with was working there and popped in to see me (not as a patient) when she saw my name come up on the neuro list, so I can relate to your story of fearing the rumour mill working overtime about your illness.

    I can also relate to wanting to return to work – for me, it was primarily to prove to myself that I could still ‘do’ the work, and to help take my mind off what I’d been through.

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