When I was diagnosed with Li-Fraumeni syndrome in 2016 and then three weeks later with stage 3 brain cancer, I felt lost and desperate. I just received a death sentence, not once, but twice in a month. I was devastated. “How am I going to tell people?” was my first thought. You’re trying to make them understand what it all means for you, but they can’t. How could they? There are well intentioned people who tell you that they also “can get hit by a bus tomorrow”. What a weird metaphor. I have for one never heard someone getting hit by a bus, not once. Where OH where are all these metaphorical buses that keep killing all these people I wonder? Our LFS sister Andi came up with a great way to explain how it feels to have Li Fraumeni. Imagine that this metaphorical bus you speak of is chasing you around town. Everywhere you look, it’s there. On every. damn. corner. Not only that, but that this bus already caught and killed most of your family members. Well, that’s exactly what living with Li Fraumeni feels like: How long can I outrun that bus? It became obvious to me very early in the process that, while I wasn’t depressed per se, I would need professional help to deal with all the anxiety and hurt that this life would bring us. Thus began my quest to find a therapist.
I didn’t have a lot of opinions about therapy before trying it, so I thought I’d try a couple therapists and see if I could find one I’d like. I asked my geneticist if she knew a therapist that had experience with chronic diseases such as LFS and she referred me to the therapist affiliated to the Research Center. At the same time, I asked my oncologist if he knew a therapist that specialized in cancer patients, and he referred me to the psychologist that worked with the oncology department’s patients. Both were nice enough. But, they seemed to have me figured out in about 20 minutes. They had brochures and techniques and one-size-fits-all solutions. They both told me that living in the moment, in the present, was the key. THE key. The key to make all the unpleasant emotions disappear. I had to focus on my breathing and be in the moment. Seemed simple enough, right? But what if the moment, this moment, sucks balls? What then? Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed, and concluded that maybe therapy wasn’t for me.
We have issues with depression in my family. Hard to say if it’s hereditary or just because everybody is dying way too young (let’s face it, it’s a bummer), but it definitely runs deep in our lineage. So in September 2018, when I started getting sadder every day and wanting to stay in bed more and more, I knew I couldn’t let myself sink any lower. I have a lovely son and an amazing husband. I owed it to them to do everything in my power to live a fulfilling life. So, and to this day I am not sure why, I decided to give this therapy thing another try. This time, I was hoping luck and Google would help me find the help I need. As I googled “therapist +cancer +Montréal”, I laughed out loud. From the person who researches for hours before purchasing new sheets, resorting to chance to find a therapist seemed careless, almost ridiculous. But that’s where I was at, desperate for someone that could help me. I clicked on the first result: PSYmedicis. Let me tell you, every day since then, I thank life and the Google Gods for putting Dr. Marika on my path.
I was so nervous about our first appointment. This was my last try, so I had high hopes and high anxiety. I don’t remember much about that appointment. But the one thing I will always remember about our first meeting is her telling me I didn’t need to be fixed, that she wasn’t going to try to fix me. What a fucking relief! All these unpleasant feelings and thoughts were normal, they sucked, but they were normal. There was no need to try and make them disappear to live a fulfilling life. A-FUCKING-MEN. That seemed like a more reasonable approach to me. The whole session, we talked, we discussed. WE talked, not just me talking to a head scribbling notes on a legal pad. It was dynamic and engaging. I came back home energized and the first thing I told to my husband is “Dr. Marika, she seems to understand what I am saying. For real”. It just clicked. Even after just one session, I knew she could help, and I was right. I’ve been seeing her for two years now, and she saves my life every time.
Since starting therapy, I have new tools to help me when I go dark. Am I always happy? No. Have I gotten rid of my anxiety? Of course not! Living with LFS is horribly stressful and full of uncertainty. Am I way better at living with my unpleasant emotions? Yes. Am I so good at it that I don’t need therapy anymore? Hell no. Am I able to live a fulfilling life while going through all the treatments and the slicing and dicing I go through? More and more each day. Dr. Marika is teaching me how to make choices to go towards what really matters to me. On most days, it means taking care of my son and my husband. On some days, it’s taking care of myself and resting (this is harder for me, but I’m learning…). And on every day, it’s giving all my emotions, the pleasant and the (very) unpleasant, the place and care they need. Therapy is making me grow as a cancer patient, but also as a mom, a wife and a human. There are no ways out for us (well except the one), so learning to have a fulfilling life in the presence of this life threatening syndrome seems like the way to go.
I guess what I’m trying to say is… if you feel like you would benefit from seeing a therapist and you can’t seem to find one that fits your needs, don’t give up. It took me three times and maybe it’ll take you even more, but it is 100% worth the trouble. On a more practical note, Dr. Marika is helping me through the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It seems like a particularly good approach for our kind of daily struggles. If you don’t know where to start, maybe start with researching ACT therapists in your region? It does wonders for me. But if this doesn’t work, don’t give up, something else will, I’m sure.
Peace, love and mental health to you my friends,