How to Cope with the Pressure to be Over Cancer

Started by Tonia, January 26, 2015
115 replies for this topic
Tonia

Member
558 Posts
Posted on
January 26, 2015
My pre-cancer self knew nothing of the disease. I stumbled through the four and a half months it took to get a diagnosis like a kindergartener in a graduate course. 
 
At six and a half months in, I had a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. By then, my bright red, hip-to-hip scar, missing nipple and asymmetrical breasts gave me a pretty good handle on cancer’s physical effects. 
 
Getting my head around the emotional consequences was infinitely harder.  
 
Looking back, it’s not like I didn’t feel anything. I was miserable, fatigued, lonely, stressed, angry and overwhelmed. But, unlike physical scars, the severity of those wounds wasn’t obvious when I looked in the mirror. 
 
I had no idea then that recuperating from the emotional devastation of cancer was going to be even harder than recuperating from the physical damage. 
 
In fact, people I trusted told me the exact opposite. As soon as I got home from the hospital, friends and family expressed relief that “the worst is over” and returned to their regularly scheduled lives.  A cancer survivor I knew and one of my doctors assured me that cancer would take a year of my life and then “it would be over.” 
 
On the one-year anniversary of that first frightening mammogram, I was nowhere near over cancer and hit a new emotional low. Luckily, I was seeing an oncology therapist. She pointed out the futility of trying to conform to a set end date and empowered me to believe in my right to experience cancer in my own way, at my own pace. 
 
With her help, I learned how to cope with the pressure to be over cancer:
 
1. Focus on Support: When we’re sick, we go to a doctor. It shouldn’t be any different when we’re emotionally traumatized. I had no clue how to get out from under my misery, fatigue, loneliness and anger when I started seeing my therapist. Working with her helped me slowly face and dissect the pain behind my emotions and get to a better place.
 
2. Focus on Healing: As a five-year survivor, I can honestly say I’m not over cancer and probably never will be. I have, however, healed to a great extent and am much less emotionally distraught than I was during my dark days. 
 
3. Focus on Connecting: Talking with other patients and survivors let me know my emotional struggles were normal and I wasn’t alone. It may be a club no one wants to join but, once you’re in, belonging connects you to others who are uniquely qualified to provide understanding and validation.   
 
A pivotal moment of healing came a few months after my surgery when my husband and I were invited to dinner by friends. I balked because I wasn’t over cancer and was trying to hide it by telling people I was fine. I was exhausted and sick of lying, but afraid to let others in on how hard cancer hit me emotionally. 
 
My husband’s suggestion was simple, “Tell the truth.” 
 
When our friends asked how I was doing, I answered honestly and was shocked at the relief I felt.  Better yet, the trust I put in them was rewarded with empathy and compassion and I was able to go on with the evening feeling heard. 
 
Dealing with the pressure to be over cancer isn’t easy, and it’s not something I could have ever done alone. It takes work, time, and a great deal of support. 
 
Do you experience pressure to be over cancer? If you do, do you find that pressure difficult to deal with and what do you do to cope with it? 
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Anonymous

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
January 26, 2015
My pre-cancer self knew nothing of the disease. I stumbled through the four and a half months it took to get a diagnosis like a kindergartener in a graduate course. 
 
At six and a half months in, I had a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. By then, my bright red, hip-to-hip scar, missing nipple and asymmetrical breasts gave me a pretty good handle on cancer’s physical effects. 
 
Getting my head around the emotional consequences was infinitely harder.  
 
Looking back, it’s not like I didn’t feel anything. I was miserable, fatigued, lonely, stressed, angry and overwhelmed. But, unlike physical scars, the severity of those wounds wasn’t obvious when I looked in the mirror. 
 
I had no idea then that recuperating from the emotional devastation of cancer was going to be even harder than recuperating from the physical damage. 
 
In fact, people I trusted told me the exact opposite. As soon as I got home from the hospital, friends and family expressed relief that “the worst is over” and returned to their regularly scheduled lives.  A cancer survivor I knew and one of my doctors assured me that cancer would take a year of my life and then “it would be over.” 
 
On the one-year anniversary of that first frightening mammogram, I was nowhere near over cancer and hit a new emotional low. Luckily, I was seeing an oncology therapist. She pointed out the futility of trying to conform to a set end date and empowered me to believe in my right to experience cancer in my own way, at my own pace. 
 
With her help, I learned how to cope with the pressure to be over cancer:
 
1. Focus on Support: When we’re sick, we go to a doctor. It shouldn’t be any different when we’re emotionally traumatized. I had no clue how to get out from under my misery, fatigue, loneliness and anger when I started seeing my therapist. Working with her helped me slowly face and dissect the pain behind my emotions and get to a better place.
 
2. Focus on Healing: As a five-year survivor, I can honestly say I’m not over cancer and probably never will be. I have, however, healed to a great extent and am much less emotionally distraught than I was during my dark days. 
 
3. Focus on Connecting: Talking with other patients and survivors let me know my emotional struggles were normal and I wasn’t alone. It may be a club no one wants to join but, once you’re in, belonging connects you to others who are uniquely qualified to provide understanding and validation.   
 
A pivotal moment of healing came a few months after my surgery when my husband and I were invited to dinner by friends. I balked because I wasn’t over cancer and was trying to hide it by telling people I was fine. I was exhausted and sick of lying, but afraid to let others in on how hard cancer hit me emotionally. 
 
My husband’s suggestion was simple, “Tell the truth.” 
 
When our friends asked how I was doing, I answered honestly and was shocked at the relief I felt.  Better yet, the trust I put in them was rewarded with empathy and compassion and I was able to go on with the evening feeling heard. 
 
Dealing with the pressure to be over cancer isn’t easy, and it’s not something I could have ever done alone. It takes work, time, and a great deal of support. 
 
Do you experience pressure to be over cancer? If you do, do you find that pressure difficult to deal with and what do you do to cope with it? 
Report
Anonymous

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
January 27, 2015
There must be something in the air - I just wrote a post with a very similar sentiment! I love your husband's advice, "Tell the truth." Powerful, thank you.
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Anonymous

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
January 28, 2015
Thanks so much, Tori. Sometimes, it's the simple approach that makes all the difference.
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Anonymous

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
January 28, 2015
My cancer was in so many lymph nodes that my oncologist says I can never feel safe that it will not come back. No one wants to hear that I am not actually "cured" and over it. The only ones I can really be truthful with are my pets:)
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Anonymous

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
January 28, 2015
I just read your piece to my husband. I am a six year stage 2A lung cancer survivor. I am now 58. I know I have a50% survival rate but try to focus on the side where it does not return. But we are all looking over our shoulder.....my family which includes two twenty year olds do not want me to ever mention it I try not to. I simply say BC/AC to refer to things as it did change my life. But after reading this I feel so vindicated in my emotions. Thank you.
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Anonymous

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
January 28, 2015
I know it's difficult living in fear of a recurrence, Lee. I'm glad you have pets to comfort you, but please try to reach out to other patient/survivors too. I still meet on a regular basis with other survivors and it's always healing. You can call the Cancer Hope Network (1-800-552-4366) and be matched with someone who's been where you are and understands. I'm a support volunteer with this organization and they do amazing work. Thank you for reaching out here and continue to do so. It's the best way I know to keep from feeling alone.
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Anonymous

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
January 28, 2015
I'm thrilled my article vindicated your emotions, Julia. I understand what it's like to be isolated from your family when they want to forget and move on and you can't. I'm glad my words helped you communicate where you are to your husband. Please also keep reaching out to other patient/survivors. Connecting with someone who totally gets it because they've been there too is beyond validating. Keep reaching out - your emotions are rock solid valid and you deserve to express them.
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Anonymous

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
January 28, 2015
Thanks for the article. I find this difficult living with multiple myeloma because I look and mostly am fine, but the disease almost always relapses. Yet friends tend to think that my stem cell transplant was a cure. Our support group is a great help.
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Anonymous

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
January 28, 2015
Thank you, Judy. I can't stress enough the importance of being with people who understand your situation and know better than to assume you're cured. I'm glad your support group is helpful to you.
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Anonymous

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
January 28, 2015
I have just been told I am remission from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma stage 4 (Diffuse Large B Cell) which I was diagnosed with last June. I know this cancer is known to return within two years. Everyone is happy I am in remission and so am I, but I am also experiencing a lot of anxiety fearing it will return sooner than later. I have to have another Pet Scan in four months and also see the Oncologist then. So I am dreading going through that only to be told it has returned. I am trying to live a "normal" life but still struggling to find myself and returning to my usually energetic 75 year old self. I, too, don't want to tell people my true feeling as everyone expects me to be "happy" and relieved. But, I am going to start sharing my true feelings as I think it will everyone to be more comfortable know how I am really feeling.
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