I recently wrote “Reaching milestones is not all roses and enormous celebrations. Some moments come with the hurt and grief of past experiences.”
I think this is important to be mindful of. We often feel and expect that a post cancer life will come with relief and be somewhat anxiety free…and yet that rarely is the case.
The relief never comes when your doctor tells you “you are now cancer free” …because in reality your mind jumps to your next scan/ follow-up appointment.
Initially life with few medical appointments is incredibly isolating, right down scary, and utterly overwhelming…the safety net of nurses and doctors gone, feeling like the rug has been pulled from under your feet yet again. I literally felt so confused and out-at-sea, with no way of knowing how to make my way back to land.
People telling me to just be positive and focus on the future now, was of no help. It felt like I had to pretend like a tornado hadn’t torn through my life…how do I pick up the pieces? Which pieces do I even pickup to rebuild some sort of “normality”…whatever the heck that now meant?
Then there are the feelings of guilt at no longer feeling like your old self, which can feel utterly overwhelming. You simply can’t switch off the feels, at times feeling like you’re having an out of body experience when people around you treat you like the person you used to be…then everyone just looks and feels bloody confused! Often their explanation “She’s still thinking too much about cancer”!!!
Throw into the mix the expectations of others, as well meaning as they are, that life will go “back to normal” now that you’re “cured” – and life beyond cancer…well that’s when the marathon really begins!
Feel all the feels
What I have found is that leaning into the feelings of uncertainty and discomfort, creates the space to allow you to shine and re-emerge. No doubt we will never be quite the same, for me personally that is not a bad thing…it hasn’t been an easy journey, but it feels rewarding as cathartic as that may sound.
Perception around how and what cancer patients and those living a life beyond cancer should be feeling, eating, doing (and the list goes on) is rife! Fine tune what serves you and listen to that.
Learn to cut out a lot of what is essentially noise, and more than likely not helpful. I routinely go through my social platforms and unfollow or mute posts/ people that I feel are not supporting what I need. I do the same with my emails, and what activities I decide to spend my time on. Time and energy are precious, and I would put to you “If you’re not feeling it or if it’s not supporting you, what’s the point of having it in your life?”
I feel strongly that being selective with the energy we hold is our absolute right, and if you can’t do this with or after cancer than when can we do it?
Feeling all the feels, creating space for that to come through also allows healing and grief to walk its path in a more nurturing way.
Time is a greater healer
The other big insight for me has been that it’s all going to take TIME! There’s no way we can rush this process. As much as I wanted the discomfort of trying to figure all this sh*t out asap, there was just no way that I was going to be able to hurry the process along.
The growth and the perspective can only come once time has passed, and enough of the hurt and grief have been worked through and then slowly, some semblance of our future life starts to emerge.
I have spent so much of my time post treatment, and reconstruction surgeries feeling the emotional discomfort and confusion – but I stuck with it. I journaled like
crazy; I sought open conversations with close friends and fellow breasties; I dug deep and at times had to be brutally honest with myself knowing that in the end I
would get to a honest version of myself. One that inevitably is somewhat different to who I felt I used to be, and that comes with its own challenges.
But out of this honesty has come an authentic feel to life, and that for me means a lot less self-judgement on my part and that is such a relief. I am who I am now, and I don’t want to be any different. What I have gone through has shaped me and life in immeasurable ways; it’s brought amazing fellow humans into my life for which I will always be grateful, and it’s shown me a purpose and a calling so strong that it now guides my path going forward.
Wishing you all my lovelies the greatest of health
Veronica | @ronileonardo
This article was written by Veronica Leonardo for Pink Hope’s ‘From One Patient to Another’ series.
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