Six Years Since My Cancer Diagnosis & I’m Still Waiting…

April 29th marks six years since I heard the words, you have “a” cancer. SIX YEARS! Wow. So much has changed and yet so much has not. I am the same person and yet I am not. Another year has passed and again I wonder, where is my epiphany? When will I learn the great life lessons cancer is supposed to teach me?

I have read so many articles over the past six years written by people (some even stage IV) who share how they’ve changed, learned things and/or grown into better people. Many proclaim to not sweat the small stuff anymore. Some make bucket lists, change their life goals, stop putting stuff off, or whatever. Still others say they appreciate life more, no longer take friends and family for granted and so on and so on.

I just don’t get it.

What am I missing?

Sometimes I feel envious when I read such articles. Sometimes I wish I could be more like those people. Sometimes I just want cancer to make some sort of sense. I want there to be a reason. But I know it doesn’t work that way, not for me anyway. There is no sense to be made from cancer and it has certainly been no gift for me and my family. Cancer sucks. Period.

I do not believe everything happens for a reason either.

And yet, some people seem to be able to find something of value in their cancer shitstorm.

Why can’t I?

Sure I’ve met some wonderful people, but other than that…

I am still waiting. I am still waiting to become more of something, or better in some way, but what and how?

Why am I such a slow learner?

Or perhaps I am a stubborn, uncooperative, or just not willing to let the lessons seep in sort of “cancer student”.

But why?

Throughout my life I’ve lived up (more or less) to the good girl standard, whatever the heck that means. I was never one to seriously misbehave, cause too much trouble, make waves, show up late, not finish stuff on time, talk back, or even cuss or swear.

And then came cancer.

Cancer unleashed something in me. I’m not sure exactly what.

One thing is for sure, I am not a better person today than I was six years ago because of cancer.

Do I hope I am a better person than I was back then? Of course. I hope I’m a better person today than I was yesterday. I try to be a better person every day. Well, most days. Cancer doesn’t transform you into a better, or worse, person. Besides it’s not the cancer that does the work of transforming anyway, it’s the person, so why should cancer get credit for any of it?

Perhaps what cancer does do sometimes is to create a sort of identity crisis.

I often still feel like such a cancer misfit. Even now, I have not found my way back.

But you can’t go back. So this means I never will; realizing this is scary. But then, the unknown usually is.

And cancer is all about unknowns.

I’m still trying to put the pieces back together, to move forward, to figure out who I am now and what I’m supposed to do from here on out.

And I am still waiting…

What about you?

Do you feel cancer creates a sort of identity crisis?

Do you sometimes feel like a cancer misfit?

Do you think cancer has made you a better person?

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Still waiting for answers...
Still putting the pieces back togeter. Still waiting for answers. Image via wikimedia commons






32 thoughts to “Six Years Since My Cancer Diagnosis & I’m Still Waiting…”

  1. I posted this the other day on the WhatNext cancer forums (
    [start of quote]
    Cancer has definitely changed my life, but not as much as caregiving has.
    In many ways, being a long-term (since 2001) caregiver helped prepare me to deal with cancer.
    I like to believe that cancer has made me a better caregiver. It has improved my communication with my partner. Being open about my new limitations has made it easier for her to acknowledge her own.
    For me, it just is. I don’t put a positive or negative spin on it, but I do focus on enjoying life as best I can. I like to think of it as transcending my circumstances. A good day is a good day. A bad day is still a good day (I remind myself), because I know things could be worse.
    Caregiving narrowed and honed my life. Cancer has continued that process.
    [end of quote]
    IMHO, you’re not missing anything. You’re not doing anything wrong. It is what it is, and you are doing the best you can given your own unique set of circumstances. I think that many make this a lot more complicated than it is.

    The question “What am I missing?” was something I repeated throughout 2011, a very tough caregiving year for me (three years before my cancer diagnosis). That’s the year I truly learned the brokenness of so many of our “helping” systems. I asked this question of health care professionals at a Fearless Caregiver conference ( holds these one-day conferences throughout the country, free for family caregivers), because it seemed that no matter how well I tried to prepare, we still faced numerous SNAFUs and roadblocks. The pros told me that I wasn’t missing anything. This was just how the system (doesn’t) work.

    It was a validation for me. We can do everything right, try our very best, and still get screwed. Our job is only to do what we can, when we can, whether that refers to caregiving, to cancer, or to anything else. No epiphany or magical transformation needed. “Should”s and platitudes are irrelevant (unless they help).

    The main thing my cancer experience has taught me is, “Honor your temperament,” which is a fancy version of Popeye’s “I yam what I yam and that’s all I yam!” I have full faith that you are doing what is right for you. (((Hugs)))

    1. Elissa, Care giving was life-changing for me too. I can understand how your experience as a caregiver helped prepare you for cancer, if you can prepare for such a thing, which of course, you can’t. And yes, I’m speaking out of both sides of my mouth here. I’ve decided I don’t want to learn lessons per se from cancer. I don’t want to give cancer that much power. At the same time, I certainly hope I have evolved (in a good way) as a person, but not because of cancer. You’re right. Our job is only to do what we can, when we can, no matter what the situation. And yes, honoring our temperament. That’s a good way to put it. Popeye was right all along! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Cancer misfit! Love that. Great post, Nancy! You’re not alone. I’m not sure there is a lesson to learn. For me anyway. It’s all so personal! It’s insulting to say I needed cancer to appreciate life. I did just fine before it came along. If anything, I think it’s given me a sense of urgency to see and do more with less thought of planning for the future. Which is why I’m always tempted to put an expensive vacation I can’t afford on my credit card! I don’t know if that’s good or bad and I don’t really care. (Well, a little). Perhaps cancer has given me the freedom to be bitchy-ier. Is that a word? Anyway, if you’re waiting for an ephinany, I’m waiting right along side you. Let me know if you see it. xo

    1. Stacey, Nice to know I’m not the only one who just can’t seem to figure out the great lesson(s) from cancer, other than the shitty ones. I think it’s insulting to imply (or say) I needed cancer to appreciate life too. Really? It’s another way to frame it as a gift. I understand that sense of urgency you mentioned and the future planning stuff, and the credit card for that matter! I’m probably bitchier, too, since cancer. I don’t think I’m really waiting for an epiphany, but nice to know you’re right there with me, no matter what. Great to hear from you. xo

  3. Hi Nancy. It’s been one year this month since I heard for the SECOND time, “You have breast cancer.” Apparently in the six years prior to that (since my first time with breast cancer) I didn’t learn whatever lesson it is we’re supposed to learn so I got Whammied with it again. I fully appreciated my life and all the good things in it before getting cancer the first time, so that couldn’t be what my lesson is supposed to be. I had never let opportunities for happiness pass me by, so that couldn’t be it. I appreciated my fellow man in all our variations, so that couldn’t be it. I felt the wonder of being alive and the beauty of this world, so that couldn’t be it. The only thing about me that was different after my first diagnosis was that I had greater sympathy and compassion for people going through serious diseases. But I guess that wasn’t it either. After the second diagnosis I’m absolutely positive there aren’t any lessons cancer is meant to teach us. It’s just flat out random. However, it IS my decision to make the best of it, the worst of it, or anything in between.

  4. I completely relate to this. We are similar in that we both feel that cancer was a curse and that very little good has come of it. I also wish that I was one of those people who had some sort of life epiphany for the better. But I haven’t and I can’t make that happen. I start therapy again on Friday which I am psyched about. My goal is to find the positivity, not because of cancer but, in spite of it.
    Thank you for the great post and congratulations on 6 years!

    1. Carrie, I’m glad you relate. I think. Do you feel pressured sometimes to learn some great lesson? I hate that societal expectation to learn something profound from cancer. Drives me nuts. As you know. It’s great you’re starting therapy and feeling psyched about it too. I hope to hear more about that. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this and thank you for the congrats.

  5. Seven years this summer for me. Still waiting. Def not a better person. Identity crisis? Absolutely. And for sure a cancer misfit. Congrats on 6 years. xx

  6. I so identify, Nancy! I heard a song on the radio today. Some lyrics were, “When things are falling apart, your life is falling into place.” It was playing on a Christian radio station and I do follow Jesus, but I couldn’t believe my ears! I thought back to going through chemo as my husband was being laid off from work. Even with four years of perspective, I would not agree with such drivel. I have a certain amount of acceptance for having had cancer, dealing with lymphedema and partial vision loss but I also have what I think is healthy anger about it, too. It fuels me sometimes. Hope gets me out of bed in the morning but I am unable to say cancer is any kind of good, or in any way a blessing, or it made me a better person. It just doesn’t deserve any kind of praise from me.

    1. Jeannie, I agree. I will never give cancer any praise either. And this doesn’t mean we are negative people. That’s the part that makes me crazy, when it’s implied that we are because of this. Interesting lyrics you shared. Reminds me of some of those memes that get floated around. Some of them I just don’t get. Thank you for reading and for sharing your perspectives.

  7. Nancy, you know how I feel about cancer being a teacher of some sort. This has to be my least favorite ‘platitude’ from cancer culture. I def. believe cancer creates an identify crisis. One of my biggest challenges with survivorship has been trying to find my ‘new identify’ or a place of belonging. A lot of times, I feel stuck. I have also felt like a cancer misfit because my attitude is not very welcome in our society. I am a realist who never suppresses her feelings and emotions.

    I don’t think cancer has made me a better person. Like Connie, I’ve developed a greater sense of sympathy and compassion for people going through serious diseases but I think this is very natural about tragedies in general.

    I can’t say I get jealous when I see other patients embrace their cancer experience differently than I do, but when I am told to focus on the positive by another patient for example, it does have a different effect on me than if a non-cancer person had said it (my next post is about this topic). I’ve questioned whether or not I am doing survivorship the right way. I don’t dwell on it though. I am grateful to have found people like you who share my same perspectives. It makes me feel normal. And besides, I am OK being me.

    Congratulations on your 6 years!

    1. Rebecca, Ah yes, the platitudes…Ugh. Like you, I think cancer does create a sort of identity crisis. How could it not when you think about it? I do feel envious sometimes that I can’t see the lessons. But then that feeling passes. I prefer to live in reality, well my reality anyway. I have questioned whether or not I am doing survivorship right too. I wrote a post about it in fact. Of course, we both know there is no right way, but still… I know what you mean. I look forward to reading your post. And yes, it’s okay to be who we are regarding managing cancer crap too. Thank you for reading.

  8. Hi Nancy,

    I really love this line: “Besides it’s not the cancer that does the work of transforming anyway, it’s the person, so why should cancer get credit for any of it?” I’ve done a lot of transforming since cancer, as you know. While some of it has been making positive changes to my life — which might’ve happened anyway without cancer — some of the changes have been quite negative. I think, looking back, I did the transforming.

    And I hate all those empty platitudes about “There’s a reason for everything” and so on. Simply hate them. There’s no divine reason I got cancer, and it wasn’t a message from the universe.

    It was not a positive experience. And identity crisis? You bet.

    1. Beth, I know you have done lots of transforming. I have too, but this doesn’t mean I’m about to give cancer credit for any of it. And yes, the empty platitudes are just that, empty. Sounds like the identity crisis is something many of us relate to. Thank you for reading and chiming in.

  9. I don’t know about being a “better person”, but my responses to daily challenges and the people in my life have definitely changed. I don’t want to waste my energy, solve other people’s problems or convince other people to see things my way. I don’t get upset about most of the things that used to push my buttons. It hasn’t happened miraculously, but is an attitude I want to have. Walking away from conflicts or stating my opinion and leaving it at that is much easier for me now. Getting the cancer diagnosis shocked me out of some self-destructive behaviors, I think. It’s been four years (!) since the diagnosis and I’ll be 73 on April 30th so it’s about time I think, but would never call having cancer a “gift.”

    1. Terri, I’m glad you have chosen to handle things your way. And ending some self-destructive behaviors is certainly a good thing. But you did those things. You deserve the credit. Not cancer. Thank you for sharing. And happy birthday!

  10. I am still waiting also. Sometimes, I feel bad that I feel this way. One thing I do know…the only people that can understand us are others who’ve been through the same thing.

  11. Wow.. this is so well said. While I have learned life is short and appreciate each day, I am still waiting for more.. Cancer took a hell of a lot more from me than “it” gave me,. perfect term.. cancer misfit. I am 4 years out and have not been able to accept the “new normal” Thanks so much for this!

    1. Sandy, Thank YOU for reading and sharing some thoughts. I knew life was short before cancer and appreciated each day. Didn’t need cancer as a wake up call for that either. You’re so right about cancer being very greedy and taking so much. And yes, the new normal, don’t get me started…

  12. I keep saying I’ll write about all the UNacceptable lessons I got from cancer. As much as I like to kick things around, ponder, write about, discuss via social media–I’m getting less inclined on this topic. Perhaps the title and entire text of my cancer lessons post should be: Cancer brought out the worst in me and I’m fine with that! I had no epiphanies, only reinforcement of ideas and behaviors I already had. As bad as I felt about that earlier, I don’t anymore–and wish to revel in it!

    1. CC, I have toyed with the idea of writing a post about the 10 shittiest things cancer has taught me, but alas, I haven’t yet. Still might. I doubt very much that I’ll be experiencing any great epiphanies either. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  13. I’m new into this unwelcome war. Just heading into my 3rd, “red devil” mixture. Just said goodbye to my beloved hair. I’m under 50 and keep hearing how, “Young I am…” and that is in my favor. I find myself realizing that life as I knew it will never be that way again. Now I face months of treatments, breast (s) removals and overall uncertainties! I find myself wondering what there is to celebrate the 5…10…15 year marks? Is my life now just waiting for yearly check ups to let me know I’ve been granted another year of life? Do I assume that because I HAVE/HAD breast cancer that I will not live to a ripe old age that I would have (maybe) had I not been stricken with cancer? So many questions….

    1. Kelli, There are a lot of questions and uncertainties, that’s for sure. One day at a time, so cliche I know, but true nonetheless. Wishing you all the best. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Nancy, I struggle every day with who I am after cancer. I want to be positive and hopeful for other pink sisters…it’s needed when you’re in the thick of it. But I also want to scream and rage at all I’ve lost. I dealt with many other health issues prior to triple negative bc, and chemo has somehow accelerated the deterioration of my inflammatory arthritis. And my teeth have crumbled out of my mouth…making the simple acts of chewing and smiling extinct.
    I’m all over the map; one day grateful for opportunities to try to make a difference, and another curled up in the fetal position from fear and physical fallout of chemo.
    Relationships I’ve gained are precious. The one thing I’m sure was a fortune side effect.
    Losses of pink sisters is an incredible pain however. I want to strangle and murder an entity I can’t see or touch for the cruel pain it causes.
    I wait also for the epiphany. Still waiting…

    1. Tina, I understand that struggle. I have finally learned to give myself permission to feel gratitude and grief simultaneously. We are allowed to feel joy and anger or any other emotions we might be having. Sharing about our ugly reality does not mean we are being bitter or negative. I don’t think there must be great lessons garnered from cancer either. Seems like just another way to try to re-frame cancer as a gift – and that logic will never work for me. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  15. You know, when I was 19, having an identity crisis was sort of exciting. Now? Not so much. Mostly, since about age 35, I’ve been trying to ditch the drama. Nothing like cancer to dump a shitload of unwanted drama in your life. xoxo

    1. Kathi, Cancer most definitely delivers a shitload of unwanted drama and the “deliveries” seem to just keep coming and coming. Thank you for reading and sharing. xo

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