I do a lot of reading about cancer. Sometimes it is simple Face Book posts, other times it is articles in credible magazines, and sometimes I research deeper. Articles, memoirs, or really anything written by someone who has gone through cancer, including myself, have similar threads. Common words are used – journey, the new normal, emotional scars, battle, the fight, and the lists continue. Is it because survivors feel the same way, or are we trained to use this vocabulary?
Today, I read an article on Face Book that talked about how her experience was not a gift. I suppose at first, reading it made me a bit defensive. I read it a second time and the authors’ points are valid – they are her points. I cannot invalidate them. It is one of the main topics of discussion regarding The Unexpected Gift. Often people question why I would call cancer a gift, it is incongruous. Yes, that is true. A gift is something that you want; when you receive it, one is normally happy, appreciative and looks forward to having it. That of course is not what a cancer diagnosis is. Cancer, obviously, was not the gift. The gift was the result.
At a time when a person faces a cancer diagnosis, many feelings exist. Emotions like grief, devastation, fright, uncertainty, pain, and sometimes surrender. What I find interesting is that these same feelings may stay with you from the beginning, during and many years after the so-called end. By the end, I mean when the patient is discharged from being a cancer patient. When the patient no longer needs a surgeon, a plastic surgeon, a chemotherapy oncologist, or a radiation oncologist – you are discharged. At this point, it is back to your GP. No disrespect meant here, but it is just a GP.
Where are the specialists, where is my team of doctors fighting the battle with me, what do you mean my journey is over. This cannot be how it ends. I want scans, blood tests, radioactive dyes shot through my veins, and how is my heart? Put me inside a machine and tell me the cancer is gone. Wrong. The oncologist pacifies you saying you are doing so well. Protocols are different for each doctor, some do blood work, some order CT’s and some feel the patient no longer needs to be put through any more tests, they are cancer free – for now. Maybe forever, hopefully forever.
This month, I have had my mammogram and I have seen my chemotherapy oncologist. I have had two breast exams. I take my Tamoxifen daily. I have done everything possible to decrease the chance of recurrence (ok I could be a bit more active). Still, the threat crosses my mind quite often. My oncologist gently states that I have rather immersed myself in cancer, since I own a store centered on cancer.
She is correct. This is the gift. If I had not been diagnosed with breast cancer and gone through what you may be going through right now, this store would not be here in Winnipeg. A cancer “over-comer” would not be operating a store with the understanding that people with this diagnosis require. No one truly understands cancer, like someone who has had cancer – that is my gift.
Every day I also receive a gift, the gift of seeing someone leave with a smile, the ability to share my experience to make your experience maybe, maybe just a bit easier. The gift I see when someone finds the perfect wig and feels the strength to get past losing their hair or for the person who feels empowered when they share they do not want a wig and I am so happy that they are foregoing the itchy and hot irritating hair piece! Get a bamboo hat and enjoy the comfort. It is about you and what makes you feel content.
Each person is entitled to feel the way s/he wants to, sick or well. There is no right or wrong word to describe your story. If it is a battle – then battle it is. If you want to wear pink, or whatever signifying colour, every day then do it. The journey you are on is yours and no one else’s. When you kick, scream, and throw plates, there is no judgment. Crying is empowering, keeping a brave face is a decision, and if the time comes when you need to shut down and grieve all the power to you. Grieve as much as you need to, for the loss, for the uncertainty and for being vulnerable – grieve as much as you need to, or don’t. It is your decision alone; no one can tell you how to manage this.
Whether we are trained to use the words that survivors use, they fit. A friend of mine used the word over-comer, I like that one. I have also heard thriver, graduate and a plethora of terms to describe themselves. Again, use what fits for you, it is your story.
When it is all over and you have won the battle, finished the journey, and fought the fight – perhaps you will find a gift too. I did and I want to share it with you any way I can.