Rachael’s Story | Cancer and Mental Health

 In Family Stories

Rachael Kenny (24) began feeling unwell after the Summer in 2019 but put her fatigue and other symptoms down to working long hours in her first full time job since graduating with a Biomedical Degree. After many investigations she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on December 20th 2019, the week before Christmas and began chemotherapy treatment soon after.

Rachael finished her treatment in June. She and fiancé Dean are due to move into their first home together this month and are planning to get married in May 2021. In her blog Rachael shares how her cancer diagnosis affected her mental health, and how she is coping with the emotional impact of cancer.

My Mental Health Was Hit The Hardest

“I think that after finishing cancer treatment, many people assume that you are better again. This is far from the case. Not only do you have to get over the effects of the treatment, but I found that my mental health was hit the hardest.

Throughout my treatment I struggled with my mental health, but it was after my treatment had finished that my mental health was hit the hardest. I think this was because during my treatment I was fighting to beat cancer.  Then once treatment was finished and I had beaten cancer, I realised exactly what I had been through.

I worry constantly that my cancer could come back at any time. I have to live and learn how to deal with that for the rest of my life and that is very daunting. I am so grateful that I have got rid of cancer, but every day I can’t help but think ‘what if it comes back.’ The thought of having to go through all that treatment again is so scary.

The Physical Impact of Treatment

Looking in the mirror and seeing a different person really upsets me – seeing the weight I have gained because I have not had the energy to exercise and I have been on steroids, seeing my hair fall out and having it so short and thin when it used to be so long and thick. I know I am so lucky to have kept some of my hair but to have to cut your hair short and lose so much when you didn’t actually choose to, is really hard.

It frustrates me when people say, ‘Aww sure it will grow back.’ Sometimes I just want to say, ‘Well you go cut your hair and watch it all fall out or shave it and see how you feel after’.  Looking in the mirror now just makes me feel like a cancer patient. I have lost so much confidence, and it will take a long time for me to build that back up again.

I also get upset when I can’t exercise the way I used to before I was diagnosed with cancer. I still get out of breath going for a short cycle.  Before my diagnosis I could have cycled for miles. I know one day I will be able to do that again which I am so grateful for, but it is so upsetting and frustrating at the moment. I am only 24 and I should not have had to go through this, no one should.

Getting Support

It is coming up to two months since I finished treatment and I am still learning ways to cope with what I have been through. I have had great support from my family and friends and my team at the hospital. Cancer Fund for Children have also been a great help providing me with support and someone to talk to about things I’m worrying about. It can be hard to talk to your family and friends about how you are feeling, so having someone to talk things over with is really helpful.  I don’t have to worry that I will hurt their feelings by telling them how I am truly feeling.

I try to do a little exercise every day, even if it is just a short walk. I have been able to walk and cycle a little further each day which makes me feel good.  I can see I’m improving, and it helps to clear my head, rather than lying about thinking about everything, which can make my anxiety so much worse and make me feel even more depressed. Some days I just want to lie in bed, do nothing and not talk to anyone, and that is okay, if that helps me cope.

COVID-19, Cancer & Mental Health

Not only are some people going through cancer treatment or living with cancer at the moment, but they also have to deal with the worry of contracting COVID-19 or their loved ones contracting it and becoming seriously ill.

Being told to shield can be very hard, even though I was having to isolate anyway. I could have gone out a bit more, but I was told not to go out at all. This makes me think about everything I have been through 10 times more. I can’t see any other family members or friends. I also had the additional worry that my treatment might be delayed. I had to have telephone appointments with my consultant instead of face to face meetings, which I found hard. Being able to see your consultant in person is reassuring, as they can see how you are looking for themselves.

Now that I am starting to improve physically it is hard not being able to go out more because of COVID-19. I want to get out and get my life back to some sense of normality, but I can’t because of the virus.

Before I was diagnosed, I didn’t think that I was this strong. I am proud of myself and how far I have come. To anyone reading this who is going through cancer, I want you to know you are not alone, you are stronger than you think, and you can get through this! It is hard, it is not fair and sometimes you might feel like giving up, but you are not alone, and you can do this.”

We are so grateful to Rachael for sharing her experience of cancer and its impact on her mental health. We know that children and young people diagnosed with cancer are six times more likely to to face mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, than their peers. Find out more about the emotional support we provide to children and young people  here.
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