Another year post-cancer diagnosis—still NED (no evidence of disease), still grateful, still pissed off!
(An audio of this post is available via the library.)
That pretty much sums up where I’m still at 11 years out. Yep. 11 years out. That’s me.
Every spring about this time, I find myself in a reflective sort of mood about this entire cancer shit show, which is what it is. A journey it is not. (Some choose to use the word “journey”, which is fine. It just doesn’t work for me.)
I decided to share a few random thoughts at 11 years out.
So, here we go.
1. That whole idea of cancer being a wake-up call and a priority shifter still grates on my nerves. Pretty sure it always will.
Before cancer, I was wide awake, thank you very much. I already had my priorities straight. I didn’t need a reminder to slow down or a nudge to remember to stop and smell the roses either. Pleeeeze.
2. Positive thinking will not cure cancer or determine if those darn little cancer cells will decide to metastasize or not.
Sometimes, people assume my resistance to the Positivity Pushers means I’m a pessimist or a doom and gloom sort of thinker. This just isn’t true.
We don’t have to choose sides. It’s not optimism vs pessimism. But even if you are more of a pessimist, that is still okay. Your way of looking at the world is perfectly valid too. (Especially these days.)
I live in the Land of Realism. I’m most comfortable there. I am not comfortable in the Land of Everlasting Optimism.
You get to decide where you feel most comfortable residing too.
3. Even at 11 years out, my cancer experience is far from over. This is just the nature of the beast.
My life changed. For good. You can’t go back and there are still things (and people) I miss and yes, grieve for. This does not mean I am wallowing, or stuck or attempting to rewind my life.
Is cancer done with me? I hope so. Only time will tell. Am I done with cancer? I am not. Some understand this differentiation. Some do not.
The fallout continues. Cripes, I had an 11-hour cancer-related surgery just last summer. Every day when I take a shower or get dressed, I look down or in the mirror and am reminded, oh yeah, that happened.
The collateral damage from breast cancer treatment is a big deal.
This is not feeling sorry for myself (though I still have those moments too), nor is it being pessimistic. No, it is reality.
A cancer diagnosis brings trauma, and that trauma, or the remnants of it, doesn’t necessarily end when treatment ends. (If you’re “lucky” enough to have an end of treatment.)
Although every cancer patient’s specific experience is unique, that shared sense of trauma and all that that entails is something most of us relate to. That’s the invisible bond—understanding that trauma.
4. I will go even further and say something that’s gonna probably get some riled up, but it’s worth saying nonetheless. Anger and bitterness are not always bad or inappropriate.
I mean, we’re talking about cancer, for crying out loud. I’ve been plenty angry at times during the past 11+ years. I watched my mother die from the blasted disease. Too many others I care about have died from it as well.
Who wouldn’t be angry about all that from time to time?
The trick is to not stew in anger, but to put it to use. But it is certainly okay to revisit anger now and then. The “less acceptable” emotions are still valid ones, and we do feel them.
The following excerpt via @indefatigable (Twitter handle) really speaks to me:
But I will still defend everyone’s right to remain angry and bitter right to the end. You don’t have to ever let go of those. They can burn in a little corner and flare up whenever you want. It’s ok to keep them. & not just keep them – I mean really keep them. I’m tending mine carefully, feeding them little tidbits regularly and letting them out to scream and whine occasionally.
Don’t you just love that?
I sure do.
There is something very freeing (and healing) about giving yourself permission to acknowledge the entire gamut of your feelings and to speak your truths. At least to yourself.
Don’t believe me?
So yes, it’s okay to feel your anger—or any other emotion you might be feeling, for that matter.
5. The stale breast cancer narrative that we continue to hear, for the most part, remains unchanged.
Sure, during the past 11 years since my diagnosis, there’s been progress. But the typical narrative still pretty much goes like this:
You get diagnosed. Immediately, labels such as: strong, brave, survivor, warrior are attached to you whether you wanna wear them or not.
You’re expected to more or less smile your way through treatment; after all, it’s only a year out of your life, so what the heck. When it’s over, lo and behold, you come out the other side good as new. No, wait. You come out better than before—a new and improved version of your former self.
You’ve seen the light and voila, you’re better for it. (If not, why not?)
You might want to read, After a Cancer Diagnosis, You’re a Better Person, Right?
Then you get on with it, never look back (‘cuz remember, you’re not going that way). Sure, you’re encouraged to start sharing your cancer story but only if you stick to the script and share only the uplifting parts because who wants to hear those messier details?
After all, only optimism inspires. (I beg to differ.)
And on and on and on.
What a crock that stale narrative is.
All that optimism is exhausting.
As I’ve said many times (and likely will many more), cancer is a horrible disease, not an enlightenment program.
Cancer sucks. Period. (That’s my story and I’m still sticking with it.)
No epiphany here. (Still waiting.)
Still me. (more or less)
Still NED, still grateful, still pissed off!
Thank you for sharing this post!
Do you consider yourself to be an optimist, pessimist or realist?
How do you feel about holding on to some anger and some bitterness?
Share one or two things about your cancer experience that make you angry.