January 16, 2011

total, unfiltered honesty...

the start of a new year is a huge milestone. this could be the first year in two years that i don't have cancer treatment. this is going to be the year i get married. this year is going to be a lot of wonderful things. this is also the year that i'm really going to start pushing myself to use my cancer experience for the better. i'll be starting a several week long support group facilitator training in a couple weeks, i'm going to join the buddy program, i've been asked to speak at the hospital ethics grand rounds, and i'm going to begin my oncology placement next fall, which i hope will be the start of a wonderful career.

there is, however, a lot of work i need to do personally in order to be able to give fully of myself. i know that one of my biggest weaknesses is not being totally honest when things aren't positive. i have absolutely no trouble being positive with people, but i hold back from sharing frustrations, dissatisfaction and my struggles. this came up in my field placement this semester and taught me a huge lesson professionally. but, as i have learned, just about everything we learn in our program can be applied to our lives. and, as much as i hate to admit it, i have totally belittled the amount of struggle i have faced with cancer. partly to protect others from feeling sorry for me, or from worrying...but partly because it's how i coped.

i'm so quick to tell other cancer warriors that they need to be honest about their struggles that i have forgotten to be honest about mine. so, i feel like i owe it to myself and to everyone else who has and will fight this battle to be honest. it may not be an inspirational or insightful post, but it's real, and it needs to be done...

cancer is a huge deal. hearing cancer is one of the most frightening things i have ever experienced, but it was nothing compared to what came after that. physically, cancer is the worst thing i could ever imagine. i know it's not the worst thing possible, but it totally sucks. i always said 'it could be worse'...and, yes, it could be, and i feel fortunate that it wasn't. but, really, it was absolutely terrible. there was the pain when i was recovering from the various procedures before being diagnosed. the kind of pain where you can't take a deep breath without severe pain, can't sleep, can't raise your arms over your head, can't get dressed and can't function completely. then there was the constant sickness for months on end...the kind of sickness that brought me to tears on several occasions because i knew i just had to wait it out. it's like eating something that makes you violently ill, and so you never eat it again. except, i didn't have the choice to not do it again...i had to do it twelve times. each time knowing that i would get sick, and i'd stay sick for at least three days. some days i would just cry because i knew i still had a day to go and i wanted nothing more than to not be miserable. and to add insult to injury, i was losing more of my hair each time, i was so tired i couldn't do anything, and i was having a really hard time remembering what it was like to feel normal.

but the physical struggles don't even compare to the emotional struggles. just wrapping your head around the idea that you have cancer, a disease that could kill you, in your mid-twenties (or at any age) is unimaginable. and that doesn't just fade. it doesn't matter how many times you're told you're doing well...once you've been hit with having to face your mortality, you're changed forever. there's all the 'why me', the survivor guilt, the fear of the unknown, and all of these things that just stay with you. while the rest of the world assumes that when you feel and look better physically that you carry on emotionally, they're wrong. sure, it might get a little easier to hide, and there may be more positive things happening in life to keep you smiling...but it still hurts, and it's challenging every single day. i still have moments where i'm ecstatic that i'm getting married in the fall...and then i stop and think 'what if my cancer comes back?', 'what if i have children some day and i can't be there to see them grow up?'. some of you who haven't experienced cancer are probably thinking 'you shouldn't focus on those things...you're doing well, you'll be fine'. that's the biggest challenge. those what ifs will always be there...it's not crazy for us to think about them all the time, in fact, it's totally normal for a cancer survivor to worry for the rest of their life about these things. it's all part of the process. but, it's emotionally draining to always have a nagging worry in the back of your mind. to live in a world where everyone expects you to be back to normal, and to be ecstatic about beating cancer. but, beating cancer is a long, long process. perhaps i've beat it physically, but every time i think about something scary, i realize i'm still fighting cancer on another level. it's coming to terms with the fact that i'll have to fight it for years...maybe for the rest of my life. and, that's alright. it is what it is, but i need to admit to myself that it's tough, that it's unlike anything i've ever dealt with before, and that it's valid.

and while all of this may sound overwhelmingly sad, it's not. cancer is, in a weird way, the best thing that's ever happened to me. it's made my entire being more real. i appreciate everything in this world more than i ever have, and i have such a depth in every aspect of my life now. but, the beauty in life doesn't come without a struggle. i confront cancer on a daily basis, and while the physical healing has been relatively easy...the emotional healing is much, much more difficult. and i certainly wasn't doing myself, or anyone else, any favors by saying 'oh, it's not actually that bad'...because, you know what? it was...and i owe it to every warrior out there to be totally honest. and not just about the wonderful parts of this journey...


  1. I've been waiting for this post...

    You are beautiful, my dear.
    Thank you for your honesty.

    Sending love and light,


  2. Thank you for your honesty. I so "get it" but of course at the same time I will never really "get it" because it wasn't me. Love you!!

  3. You always, without a doubt hit the nail on the head. I absolutely love this post. Nope, no one gets it but us and they never will. Once again, your writing has made my mouth drop to the floor. Stunning my dear. Love to you sweetheart!

  4. Thank you for continuing to write - your posts put into words things that I can't quite put into words (or haven't yet let myself put into words.)

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  6. This is exactly where I'm at at the moment...

  7. Hi there, new to your blog. It's great to hear about how you plan to give back. I love your optimism.


  8. This is the first time I have read your blog. I am 3 months out of my last chemo treatment (for non-hodgkins lymphoma) and yesterday I had my first follow-up CT Scan. I am struggling with living in this "new normal" way of life.

    Your honesty is inspiring. I wish you happiness and health.