For many people, the psychological after-effects of the trauma caused by a cancer diagnosis aren’t immediate.
Often, unprocessed feelings of anxiety and fear don’t surface until long after the whirlwind of chemotherapy and surgery have finished, and the patient begins to mentally unpick what they have been through and what comes next.
Last summer, Sarah Armitstead from Holme near Carnforth was diagnosed with breast cancer. Luckily, it had been caught early enough that she was only required to undergo a lumpectomy operation and a course of radiotherapy.
Despite the initial shock, Sarah had maintained an upbeat attitude following the diagnosis and during her subsequent treatment - which went very well - however, this came to an abrupt end around six months later when she returned to work.
“I thought I was coping very well and managing to stay positive, however, I then ran into what felt like a brick wall. My emotions hit me like an aftershock. I often felt very tearful and quite anxious. I had been struggling to sleep for a long time and would find myself lying awake all night,” said Sarah.
“I suddenly felt like I was back on the rollercoaster. I was getting used to new medication so it felt like I had taken one step forward and two steps back.”
Sarah went to see her GP and was referred to CancerCare by the surgery’s well-being team. Initially sceptical about how counselling could help her, she opted for a combined talking and hypnotherapy approach with our therapist Anne-Marie Flynn.
“I was wary of counselling as I was worried about going over and over what had happened. What Anne Marie offered appealed more to me as it seemed very proactive and was all about taking control over how and what you are thinking,” she said.
Sarah began to see the benefits after only three sessions.
“Anne-Marie showed me how my mind was working against me, with the ‘fight or flight’ response in overdrive and causing very negative thinking. Over the weeks she helped me reset the way I was thinking to dispel the negative and focus on the positives in any situation.
“It was a real turning point She also showed me techniques I could use while at home and at work which helped make me more resilient and less dependent on the sessions themselves,” said Sarah.
As well as her mental well-being, Sarah’s physical health benefitted from Anne-Marie’s relaxation therapy which has improved her sleep patterns and she is once again enjoying getting out and about in the countryside, both with her family and on her bike. She is also soon due to return fully to her work as a languages teacher.
“When you get that diagnosis it changes your life in an instant and it can sometimes take a while for the effects of that to come to the surface. I can’t put into words how much CancerCare has helped me and I would say to anyone who may be initially sceptical, as I was, to keep an open mind and seek the help that you need to move forward and get your life back on track.”