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The day I felt nothing but fear

Rebecca Swift vividly remembers the fear she felt in the days and weeks after her breast cancer diagnosis. She reveals how Breast Cancer Care, now Breast Cancer Now, helped her feel hope during a frightening time.

Rebecca Swift vividly remembers the fear she felt in the days and weeks after her breast cancer diagnosis. She reveals how Breast Cancer Care, now Breast Cancer Now, helped her feel hope during a frightening time.

Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 32 is an incredibly lonely place to be.

Nothing can describe the feeling of being told by the consultant that the mass on the screen is cancer. It brings with it a whole raft of emotions and feelings. For want of a better description, it’s a rollercoaster – just not as fun. (Although, considering my fear of heights and strong aversion to rollercoasters, perhaps it’s comparable.)

Guilt, anxiety and worry all feature along the way. But of all the emotions present after a breast cancer diagnosis, the most prevalent and overriding for me was fear.

Sleepless nights and ‘Canxiety’

The Fear. It ranged from moments of abject terror to an ever-present anxiety. I named this ‘Canxiety’. The Canxiety was always there at varying levels and has regularly been the cause of many a sleepless night, particularly in the days and weeks after my diagnosis.

The moments of terror used to hit me as and when they pleased, regardless of the situation. A couple of weeks after my diagnosis, I was in the middle of a restaurant when I burst into tears and just kept thinking: ‘I’m going to die, aren’t I? This thing is going to kill me.’

They quite often also hit in the middle of the night, leaving me wide awake at three o’clock in the morning, my own mortality staring me in the face like a poltergeist.

The Fear was there all the time. I used to wake up in the morning and the first thing that entered my head was: ‘I’ve got cancer – oh **** I've got cancer.’ It was the last thing in my head before I went to sleep (not that sleep was forthcoming at that point in time).

Frightened of my own body

Every so often, I was stopped short by the thought that this thing was still in my body. This unwelcome, lumpy guest. This invader. My initial reaction was to fall at the consultant’s feet and beg for them to remove it there and then. I felt like that often in the months after my diagnosis. The sudden moments of realisation that this thing that was trying to kill me was still in my body – it took my breath away.

Every appointment with the oncologist, every scan and test would make my mouth go dry and my blood turn to ice. The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when another letter bearing the hospital stamp hit my doormat, or I noticed a missed call from my nurse. The panic that set in when waiting for yet another round of biopsies or results.

Every ache or pain, cough or headache struck fear right to the very heart of me. I became frightened of my own body.

We all know that eventually we’re going to die. But it’s not something you dwell on every day, all the time. It’s not constantly hanging over your shoulder – unless you’ve been given a cancer diagnosis. Then it’s a massive slap in the face, a huge screaming wake-up call. It invades your thoughts all the time. It’s ever present.

Beginning to feel less afraid

I rang Breast Cancer Care, now Breast Cancer Now, and they put me in touch with someone my own age who had had breast cancer and was now moving forward.

It helped me to feel that little bit less frightened, and gave me hope when I thought my world had come to an end. It helped me to put on my metaphorical armour and face my diagnosis and treatment head on.

Over a year on from my diagnosis, I’m glad to say that I’m now at a point where the fear no longer plays such a dominant part in my life. It’s still there, lurking behind the scenes, but it isn’t centre stage.

It’s now the understudy, and I am in the title role.

 

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