When people think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, many people think of war, attacks, etc. I admit that I was one of these people until my journey with cancer began 8 years ago. I realized that PTSD comes from many different events and effects people in many different ways. I consider myself to have PTSD from cancer and other events in my life that I am not going to share on here.
I wanted to blog about this after talking to my other survivor friend Melissa about not feeling well. I am currently fighting a nasty virus for about the 4th time since finishing treatment in October 2016 due to my suppressed immune system. I am the first to admit that when I catch a cold, sinus infection, etc. I am the BIGGEST baby. I shared this with her and she agreed for herself, telling me she has PTSD symptoms and relives feeling crappy for months at a time when she was going through treatment. So, when she catches something like a cold, she fears it is going to last a long time. I completely connected with that and realized I too have PTSD when it comes to something such as catching a virus.
My head plays a mental game with me. On one hand, I try to tell myself that this is nothing. I beat cancer twice, endured a total of 20 cycles of chemo and 28 sessions of radiation, had multiple surgeries, and experienced pain that was not even close to this silly cold. I say if I can do that, I can do anything. And then on the other hand, the big baby mentality, self-pity, and fear set in. I become upset and think that I have been sick enough for a lifetime, why do I have to deal with this virus? These mental thoughts increase how I feel physically as well. Instantly my body wants to stay in bed like it did during treatment. Then I realize it takes me a little longer for my immune system to get rid of it, so the days feel endless and I wonder if it is something worse, or is it going to be long days of feeling terrible like I did during treatment? Or worst case scenario, am I sick with cancer again? I already feel under the weather and this mental game makes it worse.
And of course there are ways to boost my immune system. Exercise, proper eating, etc. Obviously these are good choices for every one, but my head plays the mental game with this as well. On one hand, I do want to be healthy but I get upset that I have to work harder than your “normal” 24-year old. On the other hand, I am beyond blessed that my body overcame all it did and I want to make sure I keep it healthy so it can keep fighting if needed be.
Another PTSD symptom I struggle with is “survivor’s guilt.” I talked about this in therapy not too long ago and I found out it is very common. It is natural for everyone to wonder why things happen in life the way they do, but we will never know that answer. For me, when it comes to survivor’s guilt, I always ask “Why me?” Why did I beat this not once, but twice, yet I have come across many beautiful souls who did not get to. Now I am not writing this for pity, I am being real because I know other people feel this way and I want you to know that you are not alone. If you did not know, I was treated in a pediatric cancer clinic/hospital for both of my cancers despite being 23-24 the second time. It was extremely difficult for me to see these children dealing with such a horrible and ugly disease. They came into this world innocent, so why them? The kids I have encountered along this 8-year long journey are resilient. Despite everything they have to see and feel at such a young age, they still keep a smile on their faces and continue on as children do. Being one of the oldest in my clinic, I struggled with seeing these children, wishing I can take it away from them. But I also felt so blessed to meet these beautiful, strong souls.
Tonight I had to say goodbye to a beautiful, innocent little girl who lost her battle. She fought so hard for more than half of her life. I spent quite some time with her in the day room while we were getting treatment, transfusions, etc. and she was always so polite and has a contagious smile. To hear of her passing hurts my heart, and the survivor’s guilt is weighing pretty heavy on me right now. I try to turn this form of PTSD into a positive realization. I realized that I was diagnosed with cancer again and beat it because I have a purpose in this life and I need to make a difference for young individuals that will continue to face this terrible disease. And although I have lost individuals along the way, I see them as angels on earth that God needed up there in heaven. Their souls stay with me, and if anything, push me harder to pursue my dream.
If you have any type of PTSD, cancer related or not, please seek help. You do not need to do this alone.
I dedicate this post to Mya T. May your beautiful soul and smile fly high angel, I will never ever forget you. Thank you for touching everyone you came across in a positive way. “With brave wings she flies.” God bless you.