Moving forward vs moving on #cancer #grief

Moving Forward vs. Moving On

As I’ve mentioned many times, there are overlaps in the realms of grief/loss and breast cancer that I discover, or more accurately, come to realize when writing about either of them.

One of the things that comes up time and time again in both realms is the pressure people often feel to move on from both.

When grieving, you are allotted a certain amount of “appropriate” grieving time and then one day, people start expecting you to be done. You’re expected to move on. They really mean stop being sad, be quiet about it or whatever because they are done.

It’s the same with cancer. At some point, you’re expected to be done with that too, unless of course, you’re a lifer (stage IV or metster). Those of us who are not lifers as of this moment in time, however, are supposed to get over it. Be done. Move on. People expect us to be done, again, perhaps because they are done with it, or would like to be.

The other day, I was thinking about this very thing and I had a realization, an epiphany perhaps? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. No, not an epiphany at all, but I realized in my mind anyway, there’s a very big difference between moving on and moving forward.

You might want to read, Post Cancer Diagnosis, Where Is My Epiphany?

Somehow moving on seems to imply that we close out the past, be it cancer or grief, pack it up and keep it neatly tucked behind us. Moving on from something seems like moving away from it, ready or not.

Moving forward on the other hand and for whatever reason, again, in my mind anyway, feels more like forward movement with “permission” to take any or all of my experiences with me.

Here’s a really bad analogy.

Think about all those covered wagons filled with people taking their most prized possessions out West or wherever they were going. The wagons moved slowly forward while being pulled by horses, mules or oxen.

That’s how I envision this moving forward from grief and cancer.

I pack up all my most prized and/or significant (good and bad) life experiences and carry them forward with me through the rest of my life journey. It’s still hard at times, but I keep moving forward and at my own pace. Moving on feels more like my “wagon” had a break down and I had to move on without my “stuff.”

I told you it was a poor analogy, but it works well for me.

So yes, I move forward from cancer and grief, but I take them with me too.

I cannot just move on. Even if I could, I don’t even want to (more on that at some point).

I move forward, slowly at times, stopping or even reverting backward from time to time. But I move forward nonetheless.

What about you?

Do you ever feel pressured to move on from cancer or grief?

How do you feel about moving forward vs moving on?

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33 thoughts to “Moving Forward vs. Moving On”

  1. I agree semantics are very important. Moving forward you are carrying all parts of yourself, “moving on” sounds judgmental and implied that you discard parts of yourself. I think if a person moves forward and carries their history, they are acknowledging the whole of themselves and their experience, I see that as strength. If someone tells you to move on, it sounds dismissive. Moving forward at your own pace is important too. Everyone’s pace is different.

  2. Actually the wagon analogy is perfect! I find it frustrating that just because a life-altering experience is “over” that I’m just supposed to forget about it. And I tend to hang onto things, so it is natural my cancer experience still impacts me, just like a few other life experiences.
    “Grief changes shape, but it never ends.” –Keanu Reeves (yeah, yeah, the guy who says “whoa” in every movie…but he’s right).

    1. CC, Well, I’m glad you liked my covered wagon analogy. It works well for me. The Keanu Reeves quote you shared is such a good one. Thank you for sharing it.

    1. Hmmm…when do we get used to this whole cancer thing? I keep hearing about the fact that one day this will all be a distant memory. I just can’t imagine that.

      1. Carrie, Like I mentioned, everything is still very recent for you. You won’t forget. Nor should you, but you will learn to adapt, adjust and carry on as best you can.

    2. CC, Another good quote. Although Carrie had a good point. How does a person get used to cancer? I guess we sort of adapt because what choice do we have, right?

  3. I loved this post! I will sometimes have people tell me that I need to stop thinking about cancer so much, that I need to move on … which isn’t really what I need. More, I need to stop worrying so much and move forward with my life … I shall never move on … or move away …

    1. Becky, I’m glad you liked it. No one has ever told me to stop thinking about cancer so much, but I’m pretty sure a few have thought it. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  4. I’m not even a year post diagnosis but already I’m feeling the pressure to “move on.” Surprisingly (or not) I get it a lot from my husband. Sometimes I get the sense that, because the cancer is out of my body and I am out of treatment (except for the clinical trial I’m on), that’s it’s over. But it’s not. It’s so not!!! I might be cancer free but I don’t feel cancer free at all. I think that, unless you have gone through something like this, no one can really understand that trauma that we have experiences and the scars that leaves. “Time heals all wounds” is not true. Not of many types of loss. I have lost my body, my sense of self, my self-esteem, my fertility, my sex drive, my sense of comfort, and much more. How am I supposed to move on from that?

    1. Carrie, I’m sorry you are feeling that pressure. And no, you probably can’t move on from all that. But you can move forward with your life. Big difference. Your diagnosis and all the trauma you have been through is still very recent, so be kind to yourself and be patient too. And allow yourself to grieve for the losses. This is all very fresh for you and your husband too. Keep talking about your feelings. Keep communicating with each other. Wishing you the best as you continue healing and thank you for sharing.

  5. Nancy, once again you’ve clarified something I’ve experienced but couldn’t describe accurately. The she-hero narrative also involves kicking cancer’s butt and moving on, and I think my family and others want/need me to put it in the past, and yet it is indelibly part of me. I move forward with it. Thank you again.

    Just the other day, my sister said “we all die of something”–and I tried to explain the fears of recurrence and she just never got it. It’s so helpful to have you get it and explain it.

    1. Kira, Thank you for letting me know my post resonated so well with you. I appreciate the feedback. And yes, those comments…

  6. Hi Nancy,

    I never thought of the “moving on” vs. “moving forward” language until this very insightful post. I think we all have things we carry with us as we hopefully move forward. My family and friends believe I’ve moved on — like a snake sheds its skin and leaves (OK, not as good of an analogy as your wagon one). But the truth is, I’ve carried all the tarnished and happy sides of myself forward. And, as you fully know, blogging about cancer doesn’t mean we are not moving forward. Great post!

    1. Beth, That’s the thing, how can we not carry this particular part of our life experience with us? It’s next to impossible to move on and tuck it neatly behind us, or at least it is for me. Moving forward works so much better. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  7. Hi Nancy,

    Great analogy and great insight. You are proof positive that you are moving forward with your heartfelt posts, giving us all nourishing food for thought after a diagnosis. It’s how we unpack that wardrobe in luggage we have carried with us through our cancer diagnosis and either wear it well or neatly pack it away never to be worn or used again. Let me just say, you wear it well! I for one, will keep moving forward with you.

  8. Nancy, this is a very good analogy. I never move on from grief or cancer — and I am not planning to. I move forward and carry the load with me. I have been pressured to move on, especially about grief (grandmother). Some have suggested I need therapy because I guess they are sick of me talking about it. And some have simply distanced themselves a little because my world is too heavy for them. It’s fine.

    I have gotten used to the idea that we are all very different and unless people have walked my path, they will never understand. When I hear their words I simply ignore them. Otherwise it would be like fighting over religion. You either believe or you don’t. You either have walked the path or you haven’t, in which case you would never understand. I also don’t expect them to. In this case, I have moved on.

    The good news is that we are not alone. I know many feel the same way I do, including you, Nancy. This gives me comfort and confirms I am not going insane. I am grateful for that and hold on to the support I do get from all of you and others I can relate to.

    1. Rebecca, I’m glad you liked my analogy. It works well for me, so I had to share it. Like you, I won’t be moving on, but I do move forward. And yes, we are all very different in how we handle these things and need to seek out the support of others who understand, even if they don’t think exactly like we do on such matters. I am grateful for such support too, including yours. Keeps me sane too.

  9. 1st time here – thanks for writing. i am a 9 1/2 year invasive breast cancer survivor (with a bout of dcis 2 years ago). i totally get what you are writing about. when i was diagnosed with the dcis 2 years ago – my surgeon said: this is a blip on the radar. the one thing i had that was different from 9 years ago (when i was plunged into emotional and physical hell) was some perspective. i decided she was right and i slugged through my small surgery and radiation. i had a ring made. on the outside it just says ‘forward’. what no one else knows is that is is inscribed also on the inside. the whole thing actually says: there is no brave; there’s only forward.
    it doesn’t work for everyone but it reminds me to move forward – there’s no choice except to choose not to live. i wish you well and healing and every day a little more forward. (my blog stopped in 2012 but you might like a few of the older posts about healing and coming out of the fog).

    1. Eileen, Thank you for reading and for sharing about your experience and about your ring. Your ring sounds lovely and so inspirational, too, without sounding like a platitude. I like how it has that ‘secret’ message on the inside. Thank you for your blog link too. My best to you as well.

  10. Yes, I have been pressured to Move On before, twice by my boss and a couple time from daughter.
    My boss: Once when I was just finished with chemo and radiation and I was feeling like shit my boss told me that I needed to “Let it go” (she even used the Disney song as my ringtone on her phone), and that I should think like an athlete who after being injured, does everything in his/her power to get back to perfect health. Well, i’m not an athlete. It turned out that I had a brain tumor that prevented me from getting ‘better’. It’s gone now and I’m better than ever, but the day I came back after a 12 week medical leave, the same boss left a note on my desk telling me that life had been drama free for 12 weeks and she didn’t want me to discuss my cancer or my brain tumor. Well, the drama had been caused by her lack of compassion (she thought that all breast cancer treatment was the same, knew women who’d only had chemo OR radiation OR no treatment and were all acting normal – she talked about this all the time! She wanted to totally MOVE ON from my problem.
    With my daughter, she would keep bringing up all the difficulties I encountered with both the cancer and the tumor. I wanted to scream “LET IT GO!” to her, but I realized that she needed to talk to me about this for her own therapy.
    Nice piece.

      1. I don’t think you ever, ever move on. It’s constantly on your mind and there isn’t a day you don’t think about CANCER. It sucks.

  11. Such a good post Nancy and so many truths in here. Having experienced grief due to BC as a young adult I totally understand that we carry our stuff with us, the good and the devastating. Even if we wanted to ditch it somewhere, short of hypnosis I’m not sure that’s ever completely possible. Having been a young BC patient myself I can say without question that my brain seems to have blocked out the very worst bits, but 7 years on most of the experience is still present, even if I’m not consciously thinking about it. This stuff hasn’t gone away and I’m thinking it will probably last as long as I do

    1. Tracy, Thank you for reading and taking time to comment. I think you’re right. Even if we wanted to ditch this stuff, it’s not really possible. Even if we think we have, or think we can, much of it remains just under the surface and can bubble up anytime.

  12. Hi Nancy. Do you think that it’s possible to move forward if you’re still going through it? I’m stage 4 BC and currently in immunotherapy/chemo and feeling stuck.

    1. Angela, Absolutely. Every day is an exercise in moving forward. That’s how I see it anyway. Having said this, of course, you feel stuck at times. How could you not? Thank you for posing the question. Keep on keepin’ on.

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