I am about to get real here friends, so I hope you appreciate this and it helps somebody.
My motto through cancer was “I have cancer, cancer does not have me!” Thankfully I got to change that to the past tense, “I HAD cancer, cancer never HAD me!” You can see that motto pictured above from my survivor photo shoot. Some people may read that and be confused, like duh cancer does have me that’s why I am doing treatment, surgery, etc. And you are right – when we have cancer, it has us in many ways, but it does not control us. My motto relates to that feeling of control and on a mental standpoint.
I TRULY believe that mentality plays such a vital role during your cancer journey, and even into survivorship. Now I am not saying to be positive 24/7; that is impossible for anybody, sick or not, and will only make your journey tougher. It is important to be mindful of your feelings during your cancer journey, and to take control and do what you can to stay strong against this horrible disease.
Cancer does so many horrible things and no two people or cases are alike. However, we can relate to a lot of the side effects it does to us. On a physical level, I dealt with throwing up, body pain, fevers, infections, weakness, fatigue, low counts, etc. There were days where I could not walk from my bedroom to the bathroom without becoming completely winded. Some chemo meds made me feel like I was beaten up from head to toe. On a mental level, I felt sad, angry, confused, and depressed. I questioned why I was being put through this not once but twice. I never experienced depression until my second cancer. I used to think I experienced depression in the past over things like a breakup, fight, etc. but this was a completely different feeling. I would cry every morning, it became a routine, and I did not want to leave my bed. There were days where giving up sounded a lot easier than continuing the fight. This is when my motto kicked in. I could not control the cancer treatment or the physical side effects. I could not control all the mental side effects as well, but I became mindful of them and did my best to find ways to cope with them. This is what I mean by my motto. This is when I started opening up about my journey, all aspects of it. I turned this terrible disease into a story I hoped would help myself and impact others. I documented everything I could, the positive and the negative, and getting it out helped me feel like I was in control again.
I believe it is also important to carry this motto with you even after you complete treatment and become a survivor. As you read in my last blog, it is an adjustment and it takes time. Since being in remission in October 2016, I still struggle with depression and anxiety. I used to be embarrassed to admit this to anyone, but I am not anymore. I struggle with depression and anxiety from having cancer twice, alongside other personal struggles I may dive into later. Do I take medicine to help regulate it? Absolutely, sometimes you need to and that is OKAY. My depression seems to come and go in waves, and it has been back for a while. When you mentally feel down, it affects you physically as well. That is why it is so important to be mindful of your feelings when you are sick, why make yourself feel physically worse when you already have unfair physical side effects? For me right now, there are days I sleep a little too much and do not want to leave my bed. I have my BA in Clinical/Counseling Psychology and worked in the mental health field, so I assumed I could just handle my depression on my own with what I was taught. I was wrong. My cancer clinic recommended counseling and support groups; at first I shrugged it off, but I started to take it seriously just starting last week. Everybody moves at their own pace, and I was not truly ready until then. I want to go back to work, I want to go back to school, I want to meet someone and fall in love…how can I do all that effectively when I am struggling with depression? So, I took action and control of my feelings. I went today to get acquainted with my counselor and I have already signed up for support groups. I know I need individual counseling, but also group support sounds appealing to me. I have spoken to many survivors and fighters via social media from all over the world, but I want to sit down and see others who share similar stories and struggles.
When it comes to anxiety, I have had it for as long as I can remember. It was generalized and social anxiety, but I was able to work through it. But when it comes to anxiety with cancer, I am anxious (and fear) about the “unknown.” For example, my second cancer came out of NOWHERE and fast. Do I need to worry about another cancer coming every 6 years? What about the long-term side effects? This is the unknown, the unknown about what can happen to me down the road after everything I have been through and all the poison my body has dealt with. I actually just had a recent scare last week that I did not tell anybody about until right now. My gynecological oncologist saw a lesion during his exam and had to do a biopsy. I was alone at my appointment and he starts telling me this and my heart immediately started to race and thoughts just flooded my mind. He was not too concerned, believing it was more scar tissue from my surgery, but I could not help but shed a few tears. Just the thought of being sick again scared the hell out of me. Thankfully I found out on Monday that it was just granulation tissue, but it opened my eyes and realized I need to be mindful of this too, because these scares can happen again. And to be totally real, I can get cancer again. I need to be mindful of that as well. Same with scans, I am sure every fighter and survivor feels the same anxiety and fear as we are put into that machine, scanning away. I realized that this is not going to go away, but I can take control of how I react to it. I stopped looking so far down the road, and started to take life day by day. There are many things in life that we can not control, but the things we can, let’s be mindful of it and take care of it! I know counseling and support groups will help me with this as well.
Honestly, typing this all out to you has given me a sense of relief, because I am not ashamed of my struggles anymore. I did have cancer, but cancer never had me. I took control of what I could and did not give up, even though I wanted to on some days. If you can relate to this, please look into your resources that you can truly benefit from. If you live in the Chicago suburbs like myself, check out Gilda’s Club or Cancer Support Centers. It is free and they are amazing and kind people. If you are not local, check the American Cancer Society website or call them, they want to help you with whatever you need. It doesn’t hurt to check it out.
If you are reading this and you have not experienced cancer, but something else or struggle with depression, anxiety, etc. please consider reaching out and getting support as well. You have nothing to lose with trying it.
Thank you all so much for reading this. If you need help finding resources, please feel free to reach out to me. I would love to help.
We all have struggles, but those struggles do not have us! There is light at the end of the tunnel. It may feel like a very long tunnel at times, but I promise there is light.