After Cancer: Finding Who You Are


Remembering who you were before cancer and finding out who you are after is difficult.

As my cancer continued to wage war inside of my sister, I found it incredibly hard to separate my sister from the disease. I began to equate the illness with who she was, instead of being able to see the person that I had grown up with. Before her diagnosis, she hadn't been the best big sister — but she was still my sister nonetheless.

When things were going horribly wrong and she was having the worst of worst days, I tried to blame it on the illness. With her being so sick, it was hard to fathom that maybe if she approached things differently, maybe things may not be so bad. Her situation was definitely exaggerated by the ever-changing rotations of medications that they had her on. Even so, the disease did not simply own every bad thought or action that was being exhibited. I think that it was simply easier for me to rationalize it in my head by placing blame on cancer. Since it was already the reason for so much, it became the reason for everything that was bad in our lives at the time.

I know that cancer is an illness that changes so much and takes control of life in ways that most people could never imagine. However, having gone through it, I believe that the one thing you do get to choose is how you approach the illness. We have an incredible amount of choice in what we do and how we behave. The old adage that 'attitude is everything' applies very well to the battle that one is required to wage against cancer. Personally, I can't say that I have always done it best, but I have certainly tried. I decided to assign meaning to this disease process by becoming a nurse. For my sister, I don't think that enough time has passed for her to figue out how to best do that.

Some people may, ask after all of this, how could she not know? I can most certainly see both sides of it. Yes, this is what we were are fighting for. But while you are going through it, its hard just to face the day that lies before you. Let alone face the days that are to follow. It's even harder to face the fact that you may not be here for the dates and plans that you hear other people making.

Yet I am very much aware that my sister has always been a little different than the rest of cancer patients. As her illness wore on, I brushed aside the comments about her behavior. When she was away from a clinical setting and disconnected from the constant reminder of cancer, she did far better. To me, this was enough to simply say that those speaking up didn't understand. They didn't know the situation because they only were seeing one side of it. I can now see that as much as people do change through this affliction, they can also stay the same.

The tricky thing about cancer is that it does affect everybody differently. The remnants of cancer remain long after the battle is over. Not only do survivors have the visible scars that one can point to, but they have the emotional and psychological scars that only they carry. In this sense, my sister is like every other cancer patient. While a lot has changed in the last two years, my sister has largely stayed the same. This is not to say that she still won't change, or that it's even a bad thing. It's just who she is.

In so many ways, it is a wonderful thing. That means that she is still a sister, daughter and a friend — a young woman who hasn't quite figured out where she fits into this big world. The good news is that we won. She has an endless amount of time to figure out who it is that she would like to become.

Related Videos
Image of a woman with dark brown hair and round glasses wearing pearl earrings.
A man with a dark gray button-up shirt with glasses and cropped brown hair.
Woman with dark brown hair and pink lipstick wearing a light pink blouse with a light brown blazer. Patients should have conversations with their providers about treatments after receiving diagnoses.
Man in a navy suit with a purple tie. Dr. Saby George talks to CURE about how treatment with Opdivo could mitigate disparities in patients with kidney cancer.
Dr. Andrea Apolo in an interview with CURE
Dr. Kim in an interview with CURE
Dr. Nguyen, from Stanford Health, in an interview with CURE