By: Marísa Bock, Founder & CEO
With this month’s cancer awareness, National Cancer Survivor Month, let us take a brief look at what it means to some to be a cancer survivor. I can only speak for myself and reflect on the thoughts and feelings I have had going through my own cancer survival journey, along with those that were shared with me by friends and clients who have also survived cancer.
Surviving Cancer – this phrase has a different meaning for everyone. To some, it could mean any of the following feelings and more:
- “Okay, yeah I survived cancer, but my life will never be the same and I don’t feel like me anymore.”
- “I survived, but…
- …now I am missing body parts. How can I feel whole again?”
- …I’m an amputee – I have prosthesis – I feel the loss of a normal body.”
- …I am embarrassed to show my body like ‘normal people’.”
- …it is difficult to see myself in the mirror.”
- …my scars are a constant reminder.”
- …I am always sad and depressed, often crying myself to sleep, even jealous of other people’s happy, normal lives.”
- …I am mad and question why I had to get cancer in the first place. What did I do to deserve all that pain and suffering?”
- …I feel like my friends and family members still treat me differently.”
- …I feel no one will want to date me/marry me.”
- …I am always going to feel like a cancer victim.”
- …I get tired of people asking me if I am going to wear cancer colors or do cancer walks, runs, etc.”
- …I just want to block it out of my mind – forget it even happened.”
- …I can’t get cancer out of my head, the nagging fear of it coming back and the destruction to my body it caused.”
- …how can I be happy if I am terrified I’ll get it again?”
- …why am I still sad and depressed when everyone tells me I should be happy and grateful?”
- … why did I survive when my friend died of cancer? I feel so guilty.
- “I survived and…
- …I fought hard and beat the cancer beast!”
- …it doesn’t define me!”
- …I am going to embrace life; appreciating every moment I can get!”
- …I am going to pay it forward to help other cancer fighters get through their cancer journey!”
These are just some of the more common thoughts and feelings of cancer survivors – there are many, many more.
So, how does one continue on with life after fighting cancer? Great question! There is no single and correct answer to that, as everyone finds their own path after surviving cancer. Some survivors never find a clear answer to that nagging question. Those that can find the strength, from either within, with the help of family or friends, or from counseling, usually find their answer in one shape or another.
If you are on the winning side of the cancer battle and are now in survival mode, then now is the time to reflect on being positive and grateful that you are alive and healthy. You are a strong warrior, a hero, and yes, a survivor. Embrace it. I am not saying that you have to wear it on your sleeve as an emblem of your battle victory, no, not at all. I am saying that despite all that you have fought, endured, and learned about your cancer, you have come out of it a more amazing person than when you began. You are awesome! You are, in the eyes of many that know you and what you have been through, a strong, tough, and resilient fighter. And, believe it or not, you are admired for your strength.
Yes, that is right, I said admired. That sounds odd doesn’t it? Well, think about it. Before you had cancer, did you ever think you had the strength to fight a tough fight like cancer? I didn’t, and, many people I know didn’t, but when that cancer beast knocks on our door, we find an inner strength we never realized we had. It is truly amazing what we can do when all we have is our inner strength to fight.
So, now we are survivors. Life can sometimes be very gracious – serving up a large helping of second chances. What we do with those second chances is up to us. It is a journey, that is as individual as each and every one of us.
If you fall in the first group of statements above, it is okay. Be at peace with yourself and your new journey in life. If you picked up your life where you left off before your cancer, but still have nagging feelings, it is normal. Give yourself some grace. Find your inner peace about it. If you find it difficult to deal with the aftermath of your fight, talk about it – to a caring family member, a caring friend, a support group, a counselor, etc. – but please know that it is okay to feel what you are feeling.
If you know someone that falls in that first group, it is also okay. Be there for them. Do the best you can to be understanding and patient with their progression. Let them feel and process their emotions – their anger, mourn their loss of body parts, their sadness, their sense of confusion. Know that cancer throws people in a blender of emotional confusion and it is one that is difficult to crawl out of. Be the supportive friend or loved one that pushes the off button and helps them find their way out.
When I was feeling my most unattractive due to my many scars from all the surgeries as the result of my cancer fight, a very kind person told me, “Do not be ashamed of your scars, they are the badges of honor you fought hard for, and they make you more beautiful inside and out.” Those very kind words resonated in me; touching me profoundly and have never left me. When I get feelings of sadness or doubt, I remember those words and they bring me happy tears. It is absolutely amazing how the kindness and encouraging words of others can have such an enduring effect on someone in need of hearing those words!
Cancer Survivor. No one wants to have that label, but having it is really a badge of great courage and determination, one that no one should be ashamed of. Let your badge nudge you into the next amazing chapter of your amazing life’s journey!