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Letting Go and Hanging On

Letting Go & Hanging On

“Letting go” was the topic of a recent wonderful and very lively @bcsmchat. If you’d like to read the chat transcript in its entirety, click here. While participating in the chat, I found myself struggling a little bit with what to say, or rather with how I felt about the topic. Mostly, I guess I was, and still am, unsure of what letting go means when talking about cancer. Since I’m now five years post diagnosis, maybe this topic is on my mind more these days. Sometimes I feel like I’m supposed to be doing a better job of letting go. Sometimes I feel as if I’m supposed to be doing a better job of moving on. Isn’t this what’s really meant by letting go? Maybe not. Maybe it’s more complicated than that.

Letting go is something we all constantly do throughout our lives. We let go of childhood. We let go of carefree days. We let go of careers sometimes. We even let go of certain people and sometimes dreams we have too. And anyone who’s parented knows a whole lot about letting go. The whole idea of parenting is to help your children grow up so you can, well, let them go. And on a side note, dear hubby and I just recently successfully launched number three out of the nest. Talk about major letting go.

Yes, letting go is part of life.

And then there’s cancer.

How do you let go of cancer? Can you ever really let go?

I don’t think so. But that’s a post for another day.

With cancer, there’s a lot of letting go involved and a lot of hanging on as well.

Cancer forces you to hang on, I don’t mean to cancer of course, but to yourself.

A cancer diagnosis impacts just about every single aspect of your life, or at least this has been the case for me, so I have had to do a lot of letting go. I have also had to do a lot of hanging on.

Quite literally, I had to let go of outer and inner parts of my body, and not just any parts, but the very parts that represent femaleness. So yes, I had to let go. And after this letting go, I still work hard every day to hang on to the woman I know I still am, but sometimes struggle hard to see.

I let go and I hang on.

I never expected to not be a healthy person, much less be one with cancer. Letting go of the idea of myself as a strong and healthy person has not been easy. Accepting my new far more imperfect and more fragile physical and emotional self is a challenge every day. I know I’m still me, but yet I also know I’m not.

I let go and I hang on.

I no longer can physically do things I could do before cancer and this really pisses me off sometimes. I hang onto and try to build upon strengths of various sorts that I still have.

I let go and I hang on.

Sometimes I still don’t recognize the person who looks back at me in the mirror these days. (Come to think of it, it might be time soon for a little rant about that). She looks nothing like the person she looked like five years ago, and this is not just because she’s older.

I let go and I hang on.

I no longer stand in front of a classroom filled with elementary-age children on a regular basis, but I will always consider myself to be an educator and someone who cares deeply about children, and not just my own.

I let go and I hang on.

I could go on, but you get my drift.

I think of my friends with metastatic disease who must let go of so much more than I have had to.

They let go. And they hang on, many quite literally, for life every single day.

They let go. They hang on.

I guess we all do.

The tweet chat ended by positioning a certain ‘a’ word into the conversation, as a finale so to speak. It was not intended to be a question, nor a statement necessarily, just a conversation catalyst.

What ‘a’ word you might be wondering?


Acceptance is a really ‘big’ word, especially when coupled with cancer, and perhaps best left for another day to write about as well…

So yes, since my cancer diagnosis there has been a lot of letting go and a lot of hanging on, too, which really means there’s been a lot of adapting. There’s been a lot of evolving.

Cancer or no cancer, each of us lets go and each of us hangs on in her own way and according to her own timetable.

And this is as it should be.

What’s something cancer has forced you to let go of?

What’s something you hang onto?

If applicable, do you see yourself ever “letting go” of cancer, or is this even possible for you?

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Letting go and hanging on

 I love how watching the tide ebb and flow (when I get the chance) reminds me of letting go and hanging on…





17 thoughts to “Letting Go & Hanging On”

  1. What a great post, Nancy. So many of us can relate.

    Just recently, after reading another one of your posts on “separating cancer from us,” I started to write about why it is hard for me to separate cancer from me and why it’s so hard to let it go. You used the perfect word: ACCEPTANCE. But we accept because we cannot change a situation. Cancer can’t be changed, it just is. In a way, I’ve come to accept my body hurts itself. Ever since I was confirmed to carry a mutated gene, it has been hard for me to separate cancer and to let it go. I can’t because my body cannot be replaced. Also, it’s not just a cancer, it’s my cancer. It’s my cells. It’s my body. I couldn’t pretend cancer is no longer part of my life when I am still living in this body that once hurt me. I am aware it can potentially do it again.

    One thing cancer forced me to let go was my DENIAL (stay tuned for this post). Biggest loss for me, I think.

    I hang on to faith.

    I don’t see myself ever letting go of cancer, because not only is it part of me now, but it forces me to be prepared. Denial is gone.

    1. Rebecca, I don’t see myself ever letting go either because as you said, it’s part of who I am now too. I’m not sure about my feelings on acceptance, so maybe this alone tells me I’m not there yet. Thank you for reading and sharing your insights.

  2. I hang on to love and kindness. I see it in you everyday and it makes me smile and know that there is a part of life that can never be lost.
    Thank you for being.
    Love to you. xoxoxoxox

  3. This is a great post Nancy. Cancer stole the job I’d spent 20 years studying and working for which in turn put my family in a very precarious position. Time has passed and I’ve let go of the anguish and fear accompanying that period. I’ve let go of my agility, balance and full cognitive range because treatment left them somewhat tattered. Sadly it seems they won’t now recover. I’ve held on to my sanity, compassion and loved ones for which I am eternally grateful and I retain a huge sense of gratitude towards every member of the medical team who’ve worked to keep me alive. Ultimately the treasures I’ve held on to are far richer than the trinkets I lost.

    1. Tracy, I’m sorry you’ve had to let go of those things you mentioned; well, not the anguish and the fear, but the other things. As you so eloquently wrote in your last sentence, you’ve held on to the things that matter most. Thank you for reading and sharing some thoughts.

  4. Ugh, acceptance is a word I dislike–I think it was used “against” me. As in, when I expressed less-than-positive emotions, I was told I must accept my cancer–but I think the speaker meant “please shut up”. Looking forward to your post on the word!

    Moving on is a tricky thing. To me, it would mean quitting my blog, quitting reading others’ blogs–like yours. I do not want to do that yet. Cancer happened and I still worry, so quitting these things would not make that go away–although I am sure some would accuse me of wallowing in it needlessly by my online interactions. But I look at it this way: I got cancer, that won’t change, and I met good people online as a result. Why shut myself off from the only good thing that came out of cancer?

    1. CC, I’m glad to see you were able to comment. Yay! I have not come to terms with that whole idea of acceptance as it relates to my cancer yet. I hadn’t really thought about it in the way you mentioned. Does accept your cancer really mean ‘please shut up’? I would hate to think that’s the case, but in some instances it might very well be. And yes, moving on is tricky indeed. There’s a balance to be had I guess. You move forward, but if moving on implies forgetting, well, that’s not going to happen is it? And I love your point about not shutting yourself off from the only good thing (the amazing people) that came out of cancer. I agree with that 100%. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Great post, Nancy, on a very complex topic. As you know, I was part of that tweet chat, and I used the word “evolve.” Not sure if that’s a good word either (compared to acceptance), but at the time it seemed fitting.

    What have I let go of? Everything. I was being quite literal when I said the person I used to be died when I was diagnosed. I don’t recognize myself physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. While my post-cancer life has been filled with many joys and my evolving into better circumstances and a better life, my post-cancer life is also filled with negative aspects of myself.

    I guess I’m still trying to sort this out. Or maybe I shouldn’t….

    1. Beth, I do remember you using the word ‘evolve.’ I think it fits. Life is always complex, but throw in cancer and that certainly makes it even more so. I’m pretty sure most of us are still trying to sort all this stuff out. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Thank you for your post, Nancy. I’m in the middle of breast cancer treatment and learning to let go has been a major theme for me since my diagnosis–learning to let go of the good as well as the not-so-good. Every day is a practice in letting go for me: letting go of thoughts like, “When I’m through this, what if my cancer comes back?” Letting go of the feeling that I’m missing out on this and that by being cooped up post chemo, post surgery. Letting go of the idea that life is supposed to go a certain way, that I can control things–like not getting breast cancer at 39.

    1. Jenny, You mentioned one of the major letting go challenges, well for me anyway, the one about letting go of the idea that your life was supposed to go a certain way. I agree with you, that’s a tough one. It’s hard to accept that cancer is now part of who you are. And we do lose a sense of control that we never actually had, but… well you know. Every day we do have to practice. You’re so right about that too. Thank you for reading and for sharing your insights.

    1. Eileen, I’m glad things are getting better, even if it’s happening slowly. And yes, it’s hard to accept that QOL will never be quite what it once was. Thank you for sharing.

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