Personal stories

Who am I? Dealing with an identity crisis after breast cancer

Posted by Guest Author on 03 July 2020

This article sheds light on how a breast cancer diagnosis can leave someone questioning their life, priorities and identity.

By Tina

My perception of the world

I am still finding it so weird and beyond belief how one life could change so much. My perception of the world and where I fit within it has shifted so much. It is still continuing to evolve and I don’t know where it will take me to….. I thought that sitting down to write about this will help me rationalise everything that happened and the complexity of emotions, it brought into my life. Things have moved on, and while reflecting on my past, I feel rather content that I am on a journey so special and destined for me. However I am still as mystified as I was back then….

I took the hit of what a double mastectomy surgery could do to a young and healthy body and mind. I went through a long healing process, both physically and spiritually. I struggled to accept my new life and my new me. I wanted to close my eyes to what was to follow – a reality of constant hospital appointments, medical checks and burdensome treatments. My mind was a sheer mess and I felt extremely confounded.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in ten years (first time at the tender age of 28), I was like standing in front of the thousand pieces Millennium Falcon Lego set. I just did not know where to begin. However unlike the Star Wars Lego, most of the time such freaking diagnosis does not come with clear instructions of how you are supposed to organise the Lego blocks. My mind-set was out of place and I found everything deeply unsettling.

A flood of questions

Questions after questions were pouring over me, so many of them, like I was being pounded by heavy rain. I was in a state of panic that I did not know the answer of one before the next one banged me: What just happened? Why did it happen again? What am I supposed to do? Is this how life is meant to be? Who was I before and am I someone else now? The questions were getting more intense and more disturbing at the same time, I was desperately looking for a meaning and a purpose.

Things, of course got worse before they got better. After my mastectomy surgery I withdrew into my own little place of despair. When I recall the events from back then, I realise I was in a state of depression. At the time I never sought professional help. I didn’t really have the awareness to do this. I thought I should just swallow it all up, like any challenge that life throws at us. So I was reassuring myself – ‘it is fine to feel odd just get on with it’.  However I was helplessly lost and my expressive energy for a naturally lively person, that I am, had vanished. I struggled to acknowledge myself as I was, in such a vulnerable and obscure situation. I would sit on my sofa at home, staring in the void for hours on end. Everything around me had come to a freeze – I no longer knew who I was and why I was here. I was very frustrated. It was like I was coming out of my mother’s womb again as a new born. Yet I had the ability to receive, interpret and understand the world, however what laid ahead of me was beyond comprehension.

I knew life would never be the same. My consciousness had nestled into one whole new dimension. It was as if I was being re-programmed with a new perception about life. I never went back to my previous job, a profession that I was so in love with when I first started ascending the corporate ladder. Career and money were somewhat not attractive any more.

Navigating the new unknown

I couldn’t go back doing what I used to do. I would frown upon the thought of helping to build someone else’ dreams, which did not belong to me. I refused to do things for the sake of doing them, I was looking for a meaning. I wanted to follow my own dreams. I wanted to answer my own call – go out and create from the depths of my own soul, something of meaning and purpose. I had to re-learn new language and skills but most importantly it was all about finding my new true identity. ‘I am’ – the two little words that mean so much!

I love the concept of alchemy. I do believe that life’s gems can truly be discovered only when digging deep in the dirt. It’s only then that we have the eyes focused on to see them, a heart widely open to accept them and hands ready to nurture them. I consider finding my true ‘me’ as one of the most precious gems, which I could only see though the challenges that life heaped on me. It’s only when I was pushed and bent and beaten that I knew how agile and capable of living my own life I was. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why most of us cancer survivors grow to love our wounds, cherish our scars and see the gold in the mud.

A twice breast cancer survivor, Tina is the founder of The Pink Lady Bee – luscious honey, with a story, social cause and a mission to prevent breast cancer. £1 of every purchased jar is donated to Breast Cancer UK, the only UK breast cancer charity, dedicated to the prevention of breast cancer, through campaigning, education and scientific research into environmental and chemical contaminants associated with breast cancer., @thepinkladybee

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Future Dreams hold a range of support groups, classes, workshops and events to help you and your carers during your breast cancer diagnosis. These are held both online and in person at the London-based Future Dreams House. To see what’s on offer and to book your place, see here.

July 2020 (Reviewed February 2024)

This article was written by a guest author based on their own experience of breast cancer and its treatment. It is important to note that this is one person’s experience and that whilst there may be commonalities between the experiences of different people, everyone has a different diagnosis/treatment plan/general experience. The information and content provided in all guest articles is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. It is important that all personalised care decisions should be made by your medical team. Please contact your medical team for advice on anything covered in this article and/or in relation to your personal situation. Please note that unless otherwise stated, Future Dreams has no affiliation to the guest author of this article and he/she/they have not been paid to write this article. There may be alternative options/products/information available which we encourage you to research when making decisions about treatment and support.


Sylvie Henry and Danielle Leslie founders of Future Dreams breast cancer support
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