Charting a path through unfamiliar territory with a new identity as a cancer patient can be hell on your self-confidence. The decisions you make on how to manage cancer are questioned by family and friends, long held beliefs come into question, and your confidence can get beaten up, by both yourself and others. People don’t do it intentionally, but your cancer takes center stage, and you get pushed aside.
With this new identity comes a sharp awareness of what is truly important to you. You may think you know, but when your very existence is put into question, some matters rise to the top. You can be left feeling adrift, swirling with unfamiliar emotions, uncertain what to do or feel. You are not alone in this emotional turmoil; it happens to everyone.
Many scientific studies support the belief that your personality is shaped by the time you are as young as five or seven. The environment where you lived and how people treated you — what they said and thought about you — provides the “stuff” that creates who and what you are and how you think about yourself. You then spend the rest of your life confirming they were correct or working to prove they were wrong, whether consciously or unconsciously.
By the time you are diagnosed with cancer, you are committed to your self-image, good or bad. When that rug of certainty gets yanked out from underneath you, you can hit the ground hard. Hair loss, scars, skin problems, body changes, loss of sensation, early menopause, memory loss, diminished libido and fertility issues all test your confidence. Who you are at work, your ability to be a capable parent or a skilled lover, your position as the breadwinner, your hobbies or independence are also a part of your identity. When these things are threatened or stripped away, who are you? How do you prove yourself? You, like everyone else, will have your moment of understanding when you realize that an intrinsic part of your identity has changed forever.
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For more information on The Upside to Everything, Even Cancer: Advice and Wisdom From Fifteen Years at a Breast Cancer Helpline please contact Linda Langton, President, Langtons International Agency:
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