A Marriage and Family Therapist’s Story: Breast Cancer at 24 and How it Affected Her Family (PART 1)
Hi! My name is Aly Taylor, and I am honored to contribute to this blog. I contribute weekly to my own blog, “Aly’s fight” (alysfight.com) where I have shared my cancer and healing process, my infertility journey, as well as my adoption/motherhood story. What many of my followers don’t know though is that I am a Marriage and Family Therapist! I was actually in the middle of completing my PhD when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wanted to share some of my story with the readers of this blog, as I feel like pieces of my story could really help you individually as a human being, as well as a therapist.
At the age of 24, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. I was just starting my PhD program, and my husband and I were trying to start a family. Not exactly what you imagine to have happen at that point in your life, right?! I went through 6 months of chemotherapy, a mastectomy and several surgeries, as well as 6 weeks of radiation therapy. I am now cancer-free- Praise the Lord! But I do not believe my journey has been in vain. I was given a unique opportunity as I was seeing this process play out in my life. I was able to watch it through a systemic lens- especially how it was affecting my family members, and I realize that many people who have walked through cancer and come out victorious have not been afforded such a lens. Because of this perspective, I decided to write my dissertation on this incredibly difficult time in my family’s life. I will write a series of blog posts to explain and hopefully help you as therapists evaluate yourselves, as well as change the way you counsel clients going through crisis. There were several motivating factors that gave me significant reasons to conduct this study, as difficult as it was for me to carry out.
Although my own diagnosis and treatment served as a significant reason to write about breast cancer and how it affects a family, I started thinking about and theorizing how a serious diagnosis influences a family, as I have seen many clients dealing with an illness in therapy. Seeing the role and dynamic shifts that occurred in families paired with the blatant struggles my family and I went through with my own diagnosis, I was impressed to write this study.
Another reason to write stemmed from a desire to show families and therapists the many struggles that occur within a family going through cancer, which one may not typically consider. My family would be considered “healthy” by most, and we had our many struggles! If our family went through all the difficulties that we did, then I cannot imagine the struggles of a family in which there is already dissension.
The goals of this study focused on the following information: (a) understanding my cancer experience, (b) describing my experience of the struggles and victories that comes with a breast cancer diagnosis at age 24, (c) understanding how my diagnosis affected the family roles and relationships, (d) understanding how the family’s reaction to diagnosis affected me, and (e) understanding how my cancer experience, along with my family’s experience, can help aide families and therapists in the future. I also hope to add to limited literature on the cancer research of marriage and family therapy, specifically around how cancer influences the entire family.
Although much was discovered throughout my study, for the sake of you, the readers (most likely family therapists), I plan to discern seven strategies and conclusions about my research. In particular, I will focus on (a) family struggles (b) communicating about illness (c) family adjustment (d) significant other’s role (e) couple therapy (f) family therapy, and (g) what therapists and families should know about cancer and illness.
So, stay tuned! I plan to go into detail in part 2 of family struggles and communicating about illness. Until then, I challenge you—what opportunities in your life have you had to view things through a systemic lens that aides in how you conduct therapy?
I believe we grow the most through pain. I also believe that a hurt should never be wasted! Whether you are a believer in self-disclosure or not, I greatly encourage you to look at those those hurts in your own life and how it influences you as a therapist. It may be overt, or it may be more covert.
Regardless, I am a firm believer that we must use our own experiences to make us better.
In everything. A better person. A better spouse. A better parent. A better friend. And yes, a better therapist. I truly believe that since my cancer diagnosis (which was the worst thing to ever happen to me), I have become an exponentially better therapist. But, that’s because I allowed my hurt to change the way I viewed people and how I viewed their hurt.
While we wait for Part 2, when I begin to explain my story more in depth, I ask that you ponder those events in your life which have changed you. Have they changed the way you conduct therapy? If not, why not?
Connect with Dr. Aly Taylor on our guest blogger page!
Thank you Aly for sharing your story. You strength and courage are a great inspiration.