Living with cancer is challenging for many reasons. While many of these challenges are obvious, chemo, radiation, etc., there is an emotional complexity that is often overlooked. It isn’t easy for us to share our most private experiences publicly, it truly leaves me feeling vulnerable and raw. No matter how “healed” I may feel, reflecting on the past leaves me in a fit of different emotions. I was recently talking with a friend, and she noted that my initial posts felt very bitter with hints of anger shining through. At first, I was embarrassed and considered editing or removing some of my earlier posts, but I am challenging myself to sit with my feelings and be vulnerable with you. The truth is that some days are better than others. It is a rollercoaster of emotion. At times I feel angry and bitter. Often I grieve the life that I once knew. At times I feel grateful to be alive and proud of my healing journey. Despite my feelings of self-judgment, I do actively try to remind myself that it is ok to have feelings. I’m human and so are you. Be kind to yourself.
Taylor has always describes cancer as trauma. That feels like a heavy word, but perhaps she is right. While I always strive to be optimistic, circumstances are not always rosy. I do feel hopeful that if Gretchen returns, I beat her once and I can do it again. But I have also learned that I am not immune from terrible things. Terrible things happen to normal people like you and me, every single day. We are not exempt, invincible, or immune to unfortunate circumstances. Once something terrible has happened to you, you lose a sense of security and comfort that you once had. For me, it is hard to trust my body now that I know what it is capable of. My own body accepted a gene mutation for years. It accepted the rapidly producing cancer cells as normal functioning. What is preventing my body from doing it again? Once you are diagnosed, your relationship with your body changes.
One of the most unexpected challenges of opening up about my story is that I invite others to share their emotional experiences with me and hits me like a ton of bricks. While I do feel joy (is that the right word?) when I am able to help others who find themselves in the throes of crisis, it does come at a price. My heart aches every time I hear from someone new. It is a punch to the gut. Honestly, in these moments, I relive my own trauma.
My immediate reaction is to always jump into problem-solving mode and try to be positive enough for both of us. I can play the part, I have learned it well. But the truth is, deep down I am devastated for you. I am devastated for your friends and family. I cannot describe the sadness it brings me. I don’t communicate this enough and I want to make sure that I tell you now. No matter who you are, what brought you here, or what personal struggle you are facing right now, please know I share your grief. Let’s both give ourselves the gift of grace. You are doing a beautiful job working through some serious shit. Whatever circumstances brought you here, know that this fucking sucks. I wish nothing more than for you to live in a world without this hurt. To get there, we need to start talking about the hard stuff, have difficult conversations, and reject this status quo. It is time for a new story.
According to the American Cancer Society, a total of 1.9 million new cancer cases and 609,360 deaths from cancer are expected to occur in the U.S. in 2022, which is about 1,670 deaths a day. The ASCO reports a person’s likelihood of developing a primary cancerous tumor of the brain or spinal cord is less than 1%. Sit with that for a minute. That less than 1% is ME. I am a person, not a number.
As my girl Robin Arzon says, replace “what if?” with “why not me?”