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Moving On After Cancer

There are many ways that survivors are encouraged, prodded and cajoled toward the idea that in order to fully recover from cancer we need leave the role of cancer patient behind.
PUBLISHED: JUNE 28, 2016
"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on." – Robert Frost

The question, “How do you move on?” was simple enough and six years into cancer survivorship I should have knocked it out of the park. It came from a cancer survivor, one year out of cancer surgery. I’ve thought, talked and written about this very topic for years, so I was stunned to hear myself sputtering out phrases like, “You just do,” and “Life is what moves you on.” Fortunately, the question came at the end of a counseling session so I punted with the phrase “that’s a good place to pick up the next time we meet.”

Conventional wisdom and training suggests that therapists should be wary of answering direct questions. It one of the things that, ironically, drives people crazy in therapy — their questions are always answered by another question. As a cancer-surviving therapist, it seemed like too much of a psychological two-step to answer a question about living with the fear of cancer’s return with something as banal as “tell me what you think.”

The trap I had unintentionally laid for myself, however, was thinking that there was some magic combination of words that could unlock this mystery or act as a healing balm. I know very well that my own sense of “moving on” had nothing to do with being given some positive affirmation or, even worse, a catchphrase. I understand deep in my core that there were countless variables involved in moving from surviving into thriving.

Later that evening, as I reflected on my attempt to put into words something ineffable, I became fixated on the very phrase “move on.” There are many ways that survivors are encouraged, prodded and cajoled toward the idea that in order to fully recover from cancer we need leave the role of cancer patient behind. In psychological circles this is often referred to as “closure,” but in the real world it’s better known as “get over it” or “let it go.”



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Mike Verano is a licensed professional counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist and thymic cancer survivor with over 30 years experience in the mental health field. Mike has had articles published in national and international magazines and is the author of The Zen of Cancer: A Mindful Journey From Illness to Wellness. In addition, he maintains the blog, Confessions of a Pacifist in the War on Cancer. He and his wife, Kathy, live in Lanexa, Virginia.
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