Why Surviving Cancer is Just Really Friggin’ Hard Some Days
I’ve been away from the blog for a few weeks. It’s been a very challenging couple of weeks. I’ve stayed away to process everything that’s happened. But, part of what helps me keep going is knowing I’m still on this earth for a reason. So with that, I feel I must share my heart. Hopefully God can still use and have a purpose for my ponderings and poutings. So, with that, here’s today’s topic: Why surviving cancer is just really friggin’ hard some days.
I’ve been extremely challenged lately. These may even be some of the most challenging times I’ve had on this cancer journey. That might seem odd since I’ve not been in the hospital, had any scans, received chemo, nor even felt ill. But as I’ve heard and now first-hand experienced – the physical side of cancer is only one aspect of the disease.
As my last post told the story, I lost a close friend a few weeks ago. My Nurse Kim was a rock in my life. She had helped pump me up and give me hope for life after cancer, and life through cancer. Her passing leaves a void in my heart. I feel fortunate though to have had a Nurse Kim. I pray every survivor has a cheerleader like that in their lives.
In addition to Kim, I lost a fellow fighter last Sunday. The Colondar community is very unique. We’ve all been diagnosed with colon cancer way too young, and we have really random stories. But our randomness bonds us together. Although most of us have never met, we become comrades with one another, and add to our fleet each year. It’s as if we’re a fighting squad. We’re brothers and sisters suffering in the same unseen battle. So last week when one of us died, we all were hit hard. The reality of how unfair this life, and the disease, can be came rushing in uninvited. I experienced the guilt of surviving when other’s haven’t, felt the fear that it could have been me, and then the anxiousness of asking the question my mind wants to avoid, “who’s it going to be next?” The only thing I could really equate my feelings to was war. This must be how soldiers feel as they loose men they’re fighting next to. It doesn’t matter if you were best friends or strangers, it still hurts when they’re gone.
In addition to coping with the unfortunate deaths of the past two weeks, I’ve also been dealing with several other difficult situations due to my health history and other repercussions of the cancer treatment. The details are unnecessary, but let’s just say that I’ve envied healthy people this week. It’s hard being a cancer survivor. You physically battle one of the most gruesome, relentless diseases out there. You fight for your life to stay here. And then you beat it and stay here! But once you start living your life again free of the physical pain, you’re then beat up again by the outside world. Contracts, criteria, rates, eligibility, follow-ups, close calls, acceptance guidelines – all of the sudden you’re in another stressful situation that takes just as much of a negative toll on your emotions as chemo does your body. You’re faced with financial, mental and emotional stress. You try to fit back into the place you left, but you can’t. It’s as though you’re stained, your record tarnished. You’re not wanted. In some places, you’re excluded. And even if you do get in, it’s going to cost you a fortune. Although you know that cancer is nothing that you did to yourself, nor did you ask for, it’s hard not to feel guilty and responsible for carrying it with you. It’s like bringing a kid to an “adults only” event. It’s tollerated and worked around, but not embraced.
This has all been in the midst of 26th birthday. I’m typically the party gal who loves getting everyone together to celebrate. But last Monday, I couldn’t muster it up. There’s been too much to wade through and my emotions were shot. It was a bittersweet birthday. Not that I wasn’t glad to see it this year, as I was all too aware that it was not guaranteed, nor are the next ones. I had a small celebration with my hubby over dinner and a movie. It’s what I needed. It’s strange how “Happy Birthday” has come to mean so much more. This year, it was “Praise the Lord you’re still here.” And just making it to that day was enough for me.
I have hesitated writing a post like this in fear of sounding like I’m just complaining on a blog. But I felt like I really needed to for the sake of being transparent. Plus, it helps me really process everything I’ve been feeling. I typically try to hold it together and be real, yet focus on the positives. Cancer survivorship does bring many positives and is one of life’s biggest accomplishments and joys for me. But I feel it’s important to be real about some of the downsides too. It’s important for those who will one day join my side as a survivor to expect the non-physical struggles. It’s important for those who have not had the disease to get a glimpse into how life is really like for us some days. It’s the story behind the answer of “fine” you get when you ask how we’re doing but we really don’t want to go into it.
Maybe in the future, there will be a little more sensitivity toward a survivor’s life post-treatment. While it’s unrealistic to hope that we won’t lost any more fighters, maybe it will be easier to identify why the loss of a stranger to colon cancer is so upsetting. Maybe ACS will read this and understand what them “sponsoring birthdays” really means to a survivor. Maybe by getting some of the realities out in the open, this will help someone else who’s fighting. Maybe it will help those who aren’t. But all in all, hopefully it has shown everyone why living life as a cancer survivor is just really hard some days.