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Loneliness Creeps In But Can’t Stay

by Tamron LittleThriving Survivor, Peritoneal MesotheliomaDecember 13, 2023View more posts from Tamron Little

Have you ever felt as if you were surrounded by people but still felt like you were alone? I never would have thought that I would feel that way but I did when I was told I had cancer. Those who haven’t experienced a cancer diagnosis will never understand.

At the age of 21 I was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma and told I had 18 months to live. My life was changed in an instant and all I could think about was my baby boy who I had just given birth to five months prior. Just for reference, while I was pregnant a fibroid tumor was found in my abdomen during my four-month ultrasound appointment. Doctors didn’t think it was of concern and assumed the symptoms I was having were due to the pregnancy. It’s ironic that pregnancy and peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms can overlap a bit. Nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, constipation, and in my case anemia.

What led me to find out I had cancer was when the treatment failed to shrink the fibroid. Instead of shrinking from the birth control I was taking, it actually grew larger. By the time I had surgery to get it removed, it was the size of a ping-pong ball. I still remember the day when I was in the recovery room and the doctor came in and told me the surgery went well, and that my vitals were good. Then he said, “But what I was thinking… You have cancer, peritoneal mesothelioma, to be exact!” Everything after that seemed as if it was moving in slow motion and my family around me sounded like the parents from Charlie Brown.

It took some time to process what was going on and realize that the doctor really just told me I had cancer—one that’s rare and has a poor prognosis. I had never heard of mesothelioma and the little information that was available revealed I wasn’t close to the typical patient demographic. This was the beginning of the loneliness trickling in, and I didn’t even realize it.

I am a very observant person and as I look back 15 years ago while I was in the midst of the battle, I noticed some things.

Here’s what I noticed:

  1. I was constantly surrounded by people, whether it was my family or friends, but it was as if I was all alone. Why, you may ask? I was the only one with cancer.
  2. I went through a period where I felt sorry for myself and I felt as if people were only trying to help because they felt sorry for me too. Feeling this way will cause you to feel isolated.
  3. No one to relate to. I could talk to my husband, mom, etc. about different things, but they didn’t understand. It could get a little frustrating at times, which caused me to hold things in. Looking back, if I had been given the option to attend a support group I would have done it in a flash.

Almost 16 years later I look back on it and do realize that my emotions were valid. I also learned that your mind is a powerful thing and it can take it to both ends of the extreme. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. The most important thing is that we have control over our minds, thoughts, and feelings. And even though I felt alone and isolated, I really wasn’t. My family was around me to sincerely help me. They wanted to see me healthy just as much as I did, too. At times when you’re in the thick of things you don’t see the full capture of the situation, and that’s OK. Depression or anxiety may kick in but you can overcome it.

Here’s some tidbits that helped me overcome feeling lonely:

  1. Join a support group. Countless support groups are available in person and virtual. Some of which are specifically for specific types of cancer. I wish I had found one during the time of my diagnosis, but currently I am a part of the Mesothelioma Center support group.
  2. Journal. Journaling, or brain dumping as I like to call it, is something that I do even now. Simply just write down whatever comes to your mind.
  3. Get some fresh air. At times I would go outside and just stare at nature. No phone, no music, just be still. If you can, a walk through your neighborhood or park is good too.
  4. I prayed and asked for prayer from my church family. I always say that my faith was certainly made stronger during this time because even though the odds were stacked up against me, I knew that I was going to get through it and beat the cancer. I call it activating my crazy faith.
  5. Therapy. It’s something I didn’t know I needed until I got it. Being more knowledgeable about mental health and the role that it plays in your healing journey is vital.

Remember that it’s OK to acknowledge your feelings and sit in your emotions, but don’t stay there and dwell on your symptoms.

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