While I was in treatment, my therapist told me that recovery would be more difficult than treatment. I honestly laughed in response, and felt a bit offended – as if she had any idea that my body was being pushed to its absolute limit.
Well, it turns out she was right. And I remind her of that in our weekly sessions – You called it.
So, what’s the defining line between treatment and recovery? 𝐒𝐮𝐫𝐯𝐢𝐯𝐚𝐥 𝐦𝐨𝐝𝐞.
When in treatment, it’s a full-blown war on a cellular level, and your body is the city you’re desperately trying to defend. Your enemy, the cancer, is doing everything it can to take over your city, and you will do whatever it takes to kill your enemy before it kills you.
During treatment – during this war – you have a path and a purpose, a goal to focus on, a job to get through and survive, and weapons to fight your enemy.
Your mind becomes razor-focused on survival. There is no time to process the trauma of this war – that’s automatically put on the back burner.
Once the war ends, however, you no longer have a path cut out for you. You no longer have a purpose. You no longer have weapons, and you must deal with the fear that the enemy can return to kill you at any time.
You look around and realize your city was burnt to ashes in the process, and you no longer recognize it. Nothing is the same, and finally, all the trauma you suppressed during the war hits you all at once like a freight train.
Suddenly, the devastating weight of losing your city and life as you knew it hits you – and you feel exhaustion unlike anything you’ve ever experienced in your life.
Your soul is tired.
The world around you expects you to just get back up – the war is over, it’s time to be “normal” again. But you can’t.
You feel traumatized, fearful and endlessly lost. You survived torture, but you now bear scars on both your body and mind that you’re not sure people outside of the city will accept.
Your city has completely changed from the way you knew it all your life, and you have no idea where to start with rebuilding a new one.
Moral of the story? Survivorship is f*cking hard – physically and mentally.
Survivorship can be the darkest place you’ve ever existed in at times.
I received an overwhelming amount of information during treatment – countless pamphlets and packets for every step of the way. Once I finished treatment, however, there was no guidance – no forewarning of the challenges ahead or how to handle them.
But the more I talked about the challenges of survivorship, the more I realized that it wasn’t just me – and the more I realized how misunderstood we are at this station of our lives. The challenges of survivorship are masked by what people perceive as our “return to normal” – the end of treatment, the return of skin tone, the hair on our heads.
If you’re feeling lost after treatment, I can say with confidence – you are not alone. If you’re feeling misunderstood – you are not alone. Perhaps the only people who will ever truly understand are the survivors of this “war” – but I’m hopeful that the more we speak up about the challenges of survivorship, the more people will understand that this journey is never truly over.
By Marie Uherek
Thank you to Amgen for sponsoring this story.