Regaining confidence in the face of cancer: Selma’s story

Back in May 2017 I remember speaking to Selma for the first time. Selma was friendly and refreshingly inquisitive about the Summer Macmillan Wellbeing Day that was due to take place the following month.

Catching up with Selma this autumn, it was great to hear how she was getting on and the activities that she is now exploring and getting involved in.

“I’m in the process of going back to Tai Chi, which is very helpful, it helps balance the body, and I’m doing art which is therapeutic. You have to concentrate, so that helps you know, keep my mind busy [and] active. I’ve signed up to a yoga class, so hopefully I start that next week.”

From hearing Selma, you would never think that just a few months earlier in February; she had been receiving radiotherapy treatment for Lymphoma.

“It was a lump that came up by my throat. I was doing something one evening and I thought ‘oh, what’s this?’, [I thought] ‘it’s probably just a blocked gland or something or a cyst’, so I didn’t really give it much thought then.”

“I went to the doctor a couple of days later where I was referred to the hospital, where I had a biopsy and all these tests and they said it was lymphoma. I didn’t know anything about lymphoma before, so the doctor had to explain. I went home and did some research on lymphoma, and started to get myself around this, you know. I started to feel really low; I don’t want to go through all this you know, and I went to the oncology the one who diagnosed me and I was told it’s a form of cancer. I cried as this was a shock hearing about cancer.”

“I didn’t say anything to anyone as such when I was diagnosed, just my family. For some reason I felt I didn’t want people to look at me in a different way. As this word cancer sounds awful. To say ‘I’ve got cancer’, I didn’t want people to see me as that: Cancer.”

With the close support of her sons, overtime Selma was able to decide what treatment was right for her. At first Selma opted for a more holistic route, “Adopting a change of diet I completely cut out alcohol and everything, my whole lifestyle changed, green diet, juicing, more veg, more fruit. [No more] bread, white flour things – everything – I changed just as I had read online.”

Within a couple of months Selma started to see more tumours appear, and so decided that she would start radiotherapy treatment.

“Three weeks of radiotherapy I had. The doctor did say at first ‘you won’t feel anything’, but come two weeks later, oh that is when everything started. My neck was sore and I was tired, and my body was just down. It was awful, and you know, I just got through it all.”

“It’s just now I can say what I’ve been through, and I’ve lost a lot of weight, well not now, but I did. So I didn’t want to go out, I didn’t want to see anyone, I felt they would see and that would be the first thing they associate you with, ‘oh she’s lost a lot of weight, she must have cancer’, so I didn’t want to go anywhere,. [I] just shut myself away. “

Returning to her faith and receiving regular counselling helped Selma regain her confidence. “I’ve done 14 weeks of 1-2-1 counselling, it was fantastic, because you know with all that happened I had to do something. My counsellor lady Linda, oh she was so great, she is based at the Harbour. Each week, it was just getting better and better, so I’m really happy with that.”

“The Macmillan Project’s Summer wellbeing day – I think that as well helped me, I sat there and looked around at other people and thought you know, look at these people, they are or have been through what I’ve been through. They look ok, they look happy,so that was inspiring to me. Taking part in the activities [also] helped me to think well ‘yes, I want to do this’ and make myself better. A good 3-4 months after my treatment, I started tai chi and my arts.”

On overcoming challenges around confidence and body image, Selma’s attitude is inspiring, “I wouldn’t say I’m over it, it’s just not so much in my mind as it was before. It’s in the background. I just think I’m healthy, and I’m living, doing all the things that I used to do more or less when I was younger.”

“Acceptance is good. ‘I’ve put my old body outside, and want to move on into the new’. Activities, going out you know, I’ve got a positive attitude now, and looking forward to a bright future. I am doing all I can to be healthy. I am thankful for the help and support I received.”