Finding Your Identity Post-Diagnosis

When someone says, “tell me about yourself”, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Do you identify mostly with your job? What about with your diagnosis? For me, I think one of the biggest struggles I’ve had since finding out I had breast cancer was figuring out how I really see myself, and how I identify myself to others.

For so long, the first thing I would say when people asked me about myself was that I’m a Physical Therapist. For as long as I can remember, I’d been working towards getting my PT degree, and then once I had that, I kept working on advanced certifications and courses to be the best PT I possibly could. But after my diagnosis I had to take a lot of time off work for doctor’s appointments, recovery from chemo, recovery from surgery, etc. and it sort of temporarily took away that piece of my identity. It left me wondering who I really was if I didn’t have PT.

Honestly, that’s part of why I started this blog.

As hard as it is sometimes to share the good, the bad, and the ugly, I’ve noticed that I almost always inevitably feel better after I let it out. I find that I’m not alone, that other people have the same questions, fears, thoughts, and anxieties that I do. And in that, I found my identity as a storyteller. Mostly, that identity is for me, but it’s also for all of you reading this. It’s for all of you to share in this experience with me, so that you will be less alone, and so will I. My identity as a storyteller is also for my patients. I am far better at relating to them since having gone through this, and that makes me a better provider in so many ways.

When I was first diagnosed I remember thinking, “Okay, I’ll do my year of treatments, I’ll have the surgery, I’ll lose my hair but it will grow back, and a year from now this will be over and I’ll be fine.” Ha! So not true. I thought for sure this wasn’t going to affect me beyond the physical side of things, and I thought there was no way I’d need support groups beyond my family and friends.

I don’t know when it was that I realized I couldn’t do this alone, but I do know that joining groups like Recovery On Water have been key not just in providing me with support, but helping me reclaim my identity. Thanks to ROW, I feel like I can identify myself as an athlete again, and even more importantly – as a teammate. Cancer makes you feel like you need to depend on everyone else around you, but being on this team helped me realize that I am capable of being that dependable teammate. Identifying as an athlete again after years away from gymnastics has been incredible for me, and I’m grateful beyond words for that.

Inevitably, my breast cancer diagnosis has become a large part of my identity. But as you can see, that has splintered off and led me to all these other wonderful things – storyteller, athlete, advocate. I encourage you to allow whatever your hardship you are dealing with to influence your identity, but don’t let it completely define you. Joining different groups, exploring new hobbies, traveling, etc, are all ways you can find new pieces of yourself and reclaim your post-diagnosis identity. Just remember – you are never alone, and you are more than just your diagnosis.

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