Thursday 14 October, 2021

How I Embraced Mental Health As Part Of My Breast Cancer Journey

Marley, based in Sweden, is the founder of aalva and a breast cancer survivor.

This is part 3 of a 3-part series in a partnership with aalva + War On Cancer

Let’s rewind a bit/ My backstory:

I was already living an active and plant-based lifestyle when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the young age of 32. My breast cancer experience (including IVF egg freezing, two rounds of chemotherapy, and a month of daily radiation) taught me that it takes more than green juice and pilates class to be in top shape. What we put in and on our bodies – from food to social media content to tampons – has an impact on our overall wellness.

This is why I founded aalva, the first organic feminine care brand of its kind. Built on the Swedish principles of quality, sustainability and innovative design, aalva is created for women to have access to feminine care that truly cares for us. 

xx Marley Kaplan
Founder & CEO, aalva
RSVP for membership pre-launch today

Mental health is a part of overall health: the unspoken partner in crime to cancer treatment

After 9 months of the doctors bombarding my system with harsh chemotherapy chemicals, drugs to facilitate the treatment, and radiation for breast cancer treatment, I felt like I had been through war – both physically and mentally. I can attest now to why they have termed treatment as “battling cancer.” Though I think there is a differentiation when it comes to cancer treatment from the classical meaning of a war; with cancer, you don’t always have a clear-cut winner or loser. There is a broad spectrum of the experience, and much of it lives in the grey. 

For me personally, when I received my diagnosis it wasn’t the disease I was so worried about in actuality – it was the treatment. I knew that if I signed on to commit to the full scope of treatment, the impact on my life would be acutely 2-3 years in the short-term to regain my hair, body, and strength with unknown ripple effects in the long-term. And even still, would I really get “back to my original self?” I asked myself, “What could that possibly mean?” Essentially the body is being re-born physically, so it must have an impact mentally as well. Though the disclaimers the doctors gave me were purely physical – from never regaining my menstrual cycle again (ie. no child-bearing) to losing my hair after only the second chemotherapy treatment – there is a retribution on mental health that the doctors can’t necessarily advise upon. 

While I was lucky to have built a community of people who cared for me in Sweden while my family was on the other side of the ocean back in the U.S., I was still under mental stress that cannot be underplayed as a part of cancer treatment. To be transparent – which I hope will have an impact on others battling cancer – I didn’t get to this place alone. Shortly after I began the steps that follow after diagnosis I realised I could greatly benefit from a low dose of antidepressants. 

The impact treatment has on mental health is equally as important as the physical changes of cancer treatment. While taking steroids and the other cocktail of pills and injections that came with cancer treatment are not stigmatised, antidepressant medication still carries a certain kind of shame that whatever the situation a person is in, they need “help.” On the contrary, I strongly believe that people should be able to ask for mental health help with a celebration of bravery, just as I was praised for bringing myself to the doctor when I first felt the lump on my body and therefore saved myself from a situation that could have been much, much worse. 

Tips for embracing mental health support during cancer treatment

  • Express and communicate how you feel with those around you. Your support system and loved ones want to help, and in many situations, don’t know how to do that. 
  • Practice stress managing techniques, such as meditation, yoga, or simply going for walks outside.
  • Share your concerns about your mental health with your primary care doctor or mental health professional.

Marley, based in Sweden, is the founder of aalva and a breast cancer survivor.

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