Sometimes being a survivor of cancer is a very lonely walk. I can have all the support in the world and still feel very much misunderstood and alone in this journey. My brain will tell me to ‘Suck it up, Buttercup’ while my heart feels broken and laid bare for all to see.
These feelings creep in from time to time and as I’m writing this, I am feeling pretty lame to even be mentioning it. The truth is, I’m not living with terminal cancer but the idea of it haunts me every day. In a couple of weeks, I have a follow-up scan to start the new year and I’m 99% sure it will show that I’m still cancer-free as I have been for the last five years, but It’s that 1% that worries me today.
The only difference between today and when I was originally diagnosed with cancer a few years ago is I have a community of survivors who support me. They walk the very same walk with me and because of them, I feel less ashamed to admit that I’m worried about a recurrence of my cancer. Every day I realize that I’m not alone.
In many ways, I relate to cancer as my abuser in the same way I dealt with being a victim of child abuse so many years ago that still haunts me today. My abuser is someone who still lives with me every day even though he has been dead now for a few years. In many ways, cancer is the same: I am left wondering if I’ll ever be rid of it.
The shame of being abused as a child still lives with me just like being diagnosed with cancer. I started this journey 5 years ago as a cancer patient and I’m grateful every day to still be standing above ground. I’m thankful that I have found a community of support as it brings me to thousands of people every day who need that same support.
The transition from cancer patient to advocate has not been an easy one for me but well worth the effort being put into it. As a close friend once told me, it takes an open heart and a warrior spirit to battle your way through cancer into survivorship. A few years ago, I walked into a cancer support group at my local cancer center. I felt the shame, worry, discouragement and loneliness that every cancer patient feels after being diagnosed.
I had spent a large part of that first meeting in tears after opening up to those who had a greater understanding of what being in this space meant. They all understood my feelings that evening and consoled me at that moment. It was the first time I had opened my heart up and allowed others to support me in my fight. After the group was over that evening, I tried to quietly leave the room, but a lady stopped me at the door. She was a long-term survivor of stage 4 colorectal cancer and had been in the battle for a few years.
We sat for a while that evening, and she took the time to talk with me about my new cancer journey. She challenged me to find my people because it was the only way I would get through this new diagnosis. This monthly support group would be a great start, but she helped me find many more resources and support throughout the cancer community.
A true warrior cannot face a battle alone; he needs to find his people to battle beside him. Because of her efforts that night, I continue to have the support I need today. I realize that I was lucky to have found such support from my new friend. She would quickly become a mentor to me in the fight. She would encourage me to use my voice to support others in the fight because so many choose not to, especially men.
Unfortunately, her cancer would progress and she would become one of the many friends that I have known over the years to be taken by this disease. A few months before she passed away, I would take over her online support group for colorectal cancer patients and continue the work she started in her memory. I now try to offer that same support to other patients in the fight. In the same way, she supported me so many years ago.
If you are newly diagnosed with cancer, I would encourage you to find that emotional support because without it you can quickly be led to a mental breakdown. Look for those who are facing a similar fight, as you might be battling at the time. If you don’t know how to do that, just simply ask the question.
Talk to your medical team to find out options that might be available for emotional support or therapy. It might mean letting your guard down and allow someone to help you in the fight.
I can tell you that it will change your outlook on the disease, and you might find yourself helping others in the fight. You might even find a few lifelong friends to support you beyond cancer. Gaining this type of support might not allow that 1% to linger over you so harshly.
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