For Mental Health Awareness Week, we reached out to Maryrose (@big_c_stomaandme) to share more about the mental health journey she has gone on while living with cancer and an ostomy 💚

My journey with mental health

Mental health is one of those subjects that I think everyone has or will in some stage of their life be affected by.

Throughout my health journey, I have struggled with my mental health. Sometimes our mental health is left behind. We move on physically as we recover from surgery or illness and dive back into normal life forgetting about or leaving behind out mental health. In my case I definitely did this!

When I was diagnosed with Cancer in 2012, it was very traumatic. It was a shock finding, something not myself or any of the doctors expected. I felt afraid, like I was in unknown territory. I was living in the fast lane and there was a lot going on, but I felt I had a lot of support through my diagnosis and through my surgery and recovery which I felt helped a lot. It wasn’t until around 6 months after the surgery that I began to struggle with the impact of what I had gone through, but I didn’t seek help mainly because I didn’t know where to start.

In 2019 when I then had my first emergency surgery, it was a different experience completely. Everything was so quick and unexpected. I had a CT scan and within half an hour I was rushed into surgery not knowing what was going to happen. I felt the impact of this mentally straight away and I didn’t quite recover from this. I then went onto have my third surgery going into lockdown in 2020. This was also emergency surgery and after this my mental health took a massive nosedive. I now was not only dealing with what I had gone through, but I also had the permanent reminder which was my stoma bag.

Living with a stoma bag

My anxiety was on another level. The thought of living the rest of my life with a stoma bag was just too much and I struggled a lot to accept this. The thought of a bag change scared the life out of me, leaving the house was just overwhelming, thinking about what others would think of me having a stoma bag, what if my bag leaks, where would the nearest toilets be etc. I had so many worries. I also had the constant thought and fear of something bad happening to me again and having to get another surgery was always in the back of my mind.

As we were now in lockdown, I found it easy to hide the fact that I was struggling mentally. I used Covid as an excuse not to have to leave the house to go anywhere or to do anything, but I knew this was only masking what I was going through. I knew I wasn’t myself. I knew I was down as did other close family members who would have been around a lot and it was them who encouraged me to speak to a medical professional about how I was feeling.

Me being me, put up a wall. I was always the ‘strong one’ who just got up and got on with things. I didn’t like the thought of opening up and being vulnerable. I saw this as a weakness, but I soon realised that this in fact wasn’t weak, it was one of the toughest but bravest things I have ever done.

Seeking help

After speaking to a medical professional, I now had a plan in place and honestly, I felt quite exposed. I did Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) where I spoke to a therapist. Showing my vulnerability was really tough and I struggled to explain and talk about how I felt without crying especially at the beginning. But as time went on, each session I was able to open up a bit more and, by doing this, in return, I was given the behavioural tools to help with situations that made me feel anxious. Mental health is not something to be ashamed of. You are not weak or any less of a person for seeking help for your mental health.

The trauma of what I went through will always be there. We don’t get over or move on from our trauma but we make space for it and learn to live with it. I still have my bad days and I am still on my mental health recovery journey, but I can now say that reaching out and getting the help I needed was the best thing I could have done. So if you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t suffer in silence, reach out to someone and get the help you need.

If you are struggling with your mental health, please click here for information and resources. 

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