June 13, 2010

new challenges...the journey continues.

cancer presents many challenges, but, what takes a while to realize is that they can't possibly all be dealt with at the same time. when i was diagnosed, i had an initial shock of emotion which caused me to shut down while i tried to process it all. that was over a weekend (first found out i had cancer on a friday)...starting the following monday, i was thrown into warrior mode - which left no time to process emotions. i was so busy trying to get through all the tests and the daily uncertainty, that it was all i could do to just get through it. then, i was finally diagnosed after two long months, and a week later i started treatment. from that point forward, the physical challenge was at the forefront...and the sole focus was finding enough inner strength and will to keep pushing forward.

now, over three months out of chemo and over a month out of radiation the gravity of it all is finally catching up with me. it has become apparent to me that, in my own way of coping and trying to help others cope, i have minimized my experience quite a bit. i never wanted people to feel sorry for me or be afraid for me (and i still don't), so i kept telling people 'it's not so bad', or 'well, i have a really good prognosis' or 'my oncologist says i'm doing really well'. all of those things are true - sort of. i never felt overwhelmingly awful about the whole experience, and i do have a good prognosis, and i did do very well. but, i was given a diagnosis of a life threatening disease, and told that i had to go through physically brutal treatments for the better part of a year - treatments that will pose a serious threat to my health down the road, but are the only way to get me out of immediate danger. that's a huge risk to have to take...treatment can kill you, but it is the best chance you have to beat the cancer that will kill you if it's not treated. so, you go ahead with treatment without much thought because you don't really have any other choice. then, i had to actually physically endure the treatments...which really did suck - no matter how many times i said i was 'fine'. meanwhile, as i was battling through the physical piece, i was continuously confronted with hugely emotional appointments, scans, and discussions about prognosis - which is a really tough thing to confront, as it has everything to do with mortality.

so, what's the point of bringing all of this up again? well, i've recently hit a pretty hard wall. for a week or so i was feeling overly emotional, agitated and fearful. i had no idea what was going on...so, my mind went immediately to relapse. why? because that's the scariest thing i can imagine right now...and for a while, everything that doesn't 'feel' right is going to make me jump to the thought of relapse. i may not stay there long, and i probably won't be able to make a good case for it, but that's just the new normal. it wasn't until i talked to a good friend (and four year lymphoma survivor) that i realized that this rut i've been in is totally normal. she explained that once you can get past the physical battle, and come down from the high of 'finally living life after cancer', it's par for the course to experience a significant low. she also mentioned that it's at this point, where i'm out of immediate danger, that i have finally allowed every part of the emotional journey that i pushed aside, out of necessity, to emerge. and, that's fairly overwhelming.

it wasn't until my conversation with her that i was able to take a deep breath. it feels as though i was clearly processing some serious emotions, but i didn't know why i was sad, upset, frustrated, etc. so, in an effort to relieve the emotions, i was trying really hard to figure out the cause of it. that only added more anxiety, because i could come up with no reason...so i just kept going to relapse (really? yes...that is, apparently, the answer to all unsolved puzzles at this point in survivorship). with her help, i was able to identify that it was a 'normal' step in the journey of a cancer survivor...and, in the end, it may be a productive step (i don't want to keep these emotions suppressed forever). so, i was able to sit back and appreciate this challenge for what it is, and look at it as just another lesson in all of this.

now, in this clarity, i wanted to write about it here for a few reasons. first, and most importantly, because it wasn't until i had the insight of someone who went through it before me that i could identify what was happening. and being able to identify it, and have it normalized, made all the difference. so, my hope is that i can do that for someone else. also, i think it's important that i stop minimizing my experience and appreciate it for what it is...a huge, life changing event. i told my friend that i felt melodramatic when i told people how it was without minimizing it...she told me that i was, in a different way, being just as melodramatic by minimizing it. and, lastly, i think it's important that all of you who read this blog hear that it hasn't been easy, and as much as i've minimized my challenges throughout my journey, i should have always told it like it is.

it's amazing what a difference it makes to be able to see things as they are. i sometimes wish i had the insight to do that on my own, but the reality of it is that i can't. at least not all of the time...and, that lends itself well to reaching out to other survivors to help offer their perspective, one that they worked really hard to have. this experience, or phase of the journey, is also an excellent reminder that i've landed in a 'new normal', and all of these phases are part of the life of a cancer survivor. just as being a cancer patient wasn't easy, being a cancer survivor will certainly have it's challenges. i just hope that i can face each of them with the same strength and poise that i did as a patient. it was a lot easier when each goal was clear (get to the next treatment, get through it, get to the next one, etc...), but in this phase, i will have to make each challenge into an opportunity to grow and develop as a person, and a cancer survivor. to appreciate each phase in this experience for what it is, and to continue to look for the lessons to be learned. and, i have to appreciate that these challenges are just as big as those i faced during treatment...just different.


  1. Hi Grace. It's Cara from the forum. What an excellent blog. What you are writing about is the same reason why I can't call myself a cancer survivor. If I do that, then I'll have to face of the emotions that I've pushed aside and hid behind all of the 'I'll be fine' and 'This is a very curable form of cancer'. I know one day I'm going to breakdown about everything I've been through. I don't want to be around me when it happens.

  2. This is a great post, and I'm sure something I'll be referring back to soon. You have handled everything with grace (ha) and done the very best you knew how at the time. There are no instructions and no perfect ways to handle this. You are doing wonderful, and you can only go up from here. xoxo

  3. AWESOME post Grace. You're in a tough spot right now...I remember it so vividly and I'm not quite sure when it ended. It just does. You're doing SO great - keep living your beautiful life, and these emotions and fears will cease. Give it a little time and if you wanna cry - let it out. I'm here if you need me!!! Sending love sweetheart!