It’s odd, isn’t it, when we are ‘released’ from the careful monitoring of the cancer ward, told our chemotherapy is over, and left to go and ‘enjoy our lives’ as if we have just finished school for the last time? Pushed back out into the big world with the assumption that we return regularly to check we are ‘OK’, yet no one really knows what to do at this point.
You feel guilty… you’ve just been cooped up for months or sometimes years, and now you’ve been given your life back. You feel like the world expects you to get back to normal just like that. I’m here to tell you otherwise. Don’t rush into the life you think you should be living. Listen to your head, heart, and gut, and go with the flow that your mind will naturally set. Of course, set yourself challenges: life is about growth after all. But don’t limit yourself with the constraints of the ‘one size fits all’ attitude that society has given us and expects us to fulfill.
The harsh truth is, cancer doesn’t end at discharge. It is something we must deal with as patients and ex-patients for life. Which sounds negative but let me take you on a journey to explain the foundations of how we can use this as a positive light in what can often feel like the world’s longest, darkest tunnel.
Post-cancer life can be a whirlpool — you feel on top of the world one minute and then if a slight tickle or symptom that resembles cancer pops up, you are knocked back down to the ground very quickly. Crumbling with anxiety and fear of the unknown beast who you’ve already defeated. I want you to understand, this is normal. You are not alone in that fear, a lot of us have this very same worry.
We are subtly reminded of that during treatment as the oncologists say ‘you will deal with this afterward”… but afterward, nothing happens. We are let out into society and given the ‘numbers to call,’ but not what to watch out for, or more importantly, what feelings are normal. Why?
The expectation when you are given that taste of ‘freedom’ again is huge. Don’t feel you need to rise to that. Instead, notice what you have been through and be liberated by that. Understand what it has taught you. Cancer can be take, take, take. Though I am a strong advocate for it not ending at discharge, I equally advocate us all preventing it from taking anything else from us. More so, taking what we want from cancer.
I run a workshop for teens going through cancer and one of the exercises I have started doing is getting everyone to do the following:
- Write down 3 things cancer has taken from you. Now take that piece of paper and rip it to shreds. Put it in the bin and allow yourself to forget the past. Because we can’t change that.
- Write down 3 things that YOU are taking back from your cancer. Understand them and use them to be powerful.
Cancer can be used to credit and benefit us, more often than we think. This is a bit different from the obvious ‘cancer card’.
I work across social media to really advocate for us as a community. I want to change the perception of everyone, I want people to wake up to the fact that we will deal with cancer forever. That it isn’t over just because we are ‘better’. Mentally, there is a lot to deal with. I found the greatest move for me was turning the trauma into lessons. What did X, Y, and Z teach me about myself? What did I take from that? How has that strengthened me as a person?
This helps me. Could it help you?
The L Card
By Rian Harvey
Thank you to Amgen for sponsoring this story.