Once you’ve been diagnosed with cancer and have been flung into the rigors of treatment, it can sometimes feel as if you’re doing cancer all wrong. There are unspoken societal messages out there about how a person is supposed to do cancer. And with breast cancer, I’d venture to say there are even more expectations, for some reason I’ve yet to figure out. We’ve all heard them, probably many times.
Be strong. Be brave. Fight hard. Stay positive. Keep the faith. Have hope. Wear pink. Eat this. Avoid that. Do this. Never do that. The list goes on and on.
For some, such messages are helpful and for some, not so much.
Why do some find these messages hurtful, or at the least, annoying?
Well, when you think about it, no one really likes to be told how to do things do they? And no one likes to feel as if she/he isn’t measuring up, which is exactly the effect such messages can have on a person who is not feeling strong, brave or positive.
There is no right way to do cancer. There just isn’t.
When your initial treatment ends, if you’re one of the “lucky” ones and your treatment does have an end, you then enter survivorship mode, often times also referred to as your new normal. Here the waters calm a bit, but on some days they’re still pretty darn choppy. With a bit of practice and lots of trial and error, you learn to navigate your way in survivorship mode, too. Notice I said navigate your way in it, not through it. It’s not like this mode has an expiration date, well unless you count dying, which I am not.
And those dealing with metastatic disease are grappling with survivorship in a different, very literal sense.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, from there on out, you’ll always have that label attached to you. You’ll always be a cancer survivor, even if you don’t like or want this particular label. Sort of a daunting thought. Or a really great one depending on your perspective. After all, you’re still surviving. But the cancer label stays with you. It’s part of your identity; a permanent scarlet letter of sorts. You’re never completely free of the big ‘C’ again.
Last year, I wrote about how I felt as if I were tiptoeing through survivorship. I guess I still feel that way. I tiptoe, but this doesn’t mean I keep quiet while I tiptoe. I can’t. I won’t.
Since it’s the time of year again which brings with it my various and numerous cancerversaries, I’ve been reflecting a bit about how I do survivorship and yes, sometimes I wonder if I’m doing it all wrong.
Of course, people do survivorship in very different ways.
Some people make big changes in their lives. Some make smaller ones. Some turn into fierce advocates attending conferences all over the country or even the world. Some start blogging and others stop blogging. Some walk or run in races. Some wouldn’t dream of it. Some wish never to read, talk or think about cancer again. And some cannot read, talk or think about much else. Some join or start support groups. Some drop out. Some turn outward. Some turn inward.
I’m somewhere in the middle of such a survivorship coping spectrum I guess.
There are societal messages out there about how to do this part too.
Move on. Be done. Put it behind you. Hurry up. Don’t talk about it. It’s over. And the one that I find really annoying, be grateful – you’re alive aren’t you? (and no, this doesn’t mean I’m not grateful) I think this one really means, “be quiet”.
Again, some are okay with the messages. And some are not.
Just as there is no right way to do cancer, there is no right way to do survivorship either.
Each person must do both in ways that feel right for her.
Figuring out how to do survivorship can be challenging, to say the least.
I’m still figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t.
I’m still a work in progress.
Cancer or no cancer, I guess we all are.
Do you ever feel like you are doing cancer survivorship all wrong?