Ten days after my surgery, my boyfriend took me to see Inside Out in the cinema. I forced myself to go, but with a gash on my throat and obvious scabbing, I wasn’t feeling up to seeing anyone. I forced myself to do things though. And it was with glib self-awareness and dry resignation that I saw Sadness lie face down on the floor that I turned to my boyfriend and said “sames”.

This summer, I was diagnosed with cancer. I also beat it, at least as far as we can tell. At the time I was flippant about what was wrong with me. It was an invisible illness and I didn’t have to talk about it if I didn’t want to. I told no one but my closest of friends. Even then, I wasn’t always honest about what exactly the doctor had told me.

The scar is not invisible. The doctor told me that he had never treated someone my age. If I were older, they could hide the scar in a natural fold. Instead, I have to wear it like a sign. This is what caused my depression. And depression hurt me far more than the cancer did.

I stopped eating. That was the first sign that things weren’t right. At first it was just because swallowing was painful. I ate when I could. After a while though, food was making me sick. I would pick at food that was made for me, lie about eating when my family was out. I once went four days on only three buttered crackers. I lost a lot of weight. People complimented me. My family worried.

Next was my sleeping. I just couldn’t sleep. I also never wanted to leave my bed. I could just spend hour cocooned in warmth and never have to leave the safety on my blanket. I stopped going out after that. I said I was working on my MA dissertation, but even that was just a shield for me at times. I went months without seeing my best friend. My boyfriend. If I didn’t share a room with my sister, I might have cut myself off completely.

I was sick. I couldn’t do anything. I was even struggling to hide that I was falling apart. One day my auntie surprised me. She came around without warning and I hadn’t prepared myself. I was home alone and there was no one to deflect to. We talked. Talked about one incident where I had a panic attack in Newcastle after a fight with my boyfriend. I tried to blame my anxiety, but I couldn’t stop crying. She cried too. She begged me to see a GP.

I’ve been on Sertraline for over two months now. I still don’t talk about the cancer. The sad thing is that I tell my students that mental health is just as important as physical health, but I was ashamed that I needed antidepressants. I didn’t understand them.

I will never be that girl I was before my surgery. My scars are physical and they are emotional. I stopped trying to find her. Now I am letting myself emerge as someone new.

The cancer I had is sometimes called the butterfly cancer. The thyroid is shaped like a butterfly, and the surgeons clipped one of its wings. If they find the cancer has spread at my check-up this month, they’ll take it out completely. I’ll rely on new pills to keep my body working. And I am okay with it.

For the first time in six months, I am okay with who I am. I am depressed. And I will still be a butterfly, scars and all.

Stephanie Gallon
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  1. This has made me cry x you are so inspirational xx

  2. Well done Stephanie on bringing mental health awareness to the forefront… and what an inspiration graduating while battling cancer and mental health issues. You have a fantastic family and support network which will get you through. Best wishes. X

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