Choosing to share your cancer story is a very personal choice.
Some choose to be open and share freely, while others choose to keep their story private. Either way is acceptable. No one owns the rights to your story except you.
I once read a profound quote by Lori Deschene -
“You own your story, but you don’t owe anyone your story. You have the right to share it when you want, how you want, with whomever you want, and if you never want to share it, that’s okay too. Your experiences are important, meaningful, and valid whether you publicize them or not.”
Those words spoke to my heart and helped validate me.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I never dreamed I’d share details about my experience with others. I’ve always been a very private person, especially about my health, but something inside me felt the need to share. Perhaps it was with the intent of helping others, but I’m not sure. I didn’t know much about cancer other than what I’d seen or heard from some close friends or family so when I was going through my active phase of treatment, I had no one to rely on for reassurance or guidance. I was winging it, making decisions on the fly, using information provided to me by the medical staff. I had no idea what was best, I just trusted my gut.
Through those experiences, something inside me became bolder. I wanted to tell my story. As I did, through blog posts, social media and other places, some family members chided me saying, “You’re sharing too much.” While I heard them, I let it go in one ear and out the other. Telling was helping me heal. I did it for me.
Sometimes, I did share too much. As I look back and reread some of the things I’ve written, I shutter. What was I thinking when I shared about my husband’s reaction to my cancer when he began to dabble in pornography? And to top it off, it was published in O magazine! Heavens! I have no idea how many people read that, but at the time I shared, I needed to do it. I wasn’t thinking about the impact it would have on others. I was merely sharing a very hurtful part of my journey and hoped it might help someone else who’d experienced rejection or hurt from their mate at one of the most vulnerable times in a person’s life.
My goal in sharing my story was to help others not feel alone. I wanted others to know cancer is ugly and messy. It’s not something casual wrapped in a neat little package with a pretty pink bow.
Before deciding to tell my story, I read the stories of other women and watched countless vlogs. I wanted an idea of what I was about to face. All I knew about cancer, at that time, was I’d more than likely go through a standard course of treatment that involved testing, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. I assumed I’d lose my hair and be quite sick but eventually, things would get back to normal and I’d be fine. That wasn’t the way it worked out at all.
As I did my research, I decided not to go through chemotherapy. It didn’t seem beneficial to me. I didn’t lose my hair but I lost who I was for a time.
I didn’t realize when first starting my cancer journey, that I’d wrapped so much of my identity up in my physical appearance. When I had my breasts removed, I was embarrassed and ashamed. I didn’t want to go anywhere or be around anyone. I became a recluse for a long time, but as I kept telling my story, sharing how I felt about each part of my experience, small cracks in my armor began to heal.
Today, almost 10 years after my initial diagnosis, I’m pretty much back to normal. I don’t share as openly as I did at first, but I’m still willing to offer helpful tips and advice to the newly diagnosed when asked.
The real healing came when I wrote a book and self-published it on Amazon. I never dreamed I’d do something like that and was surprised when copies sold fairly quickly. Just recently, I pulled the book to do some revisions. I wanted to keep my story up to date and change a few things I’d originally published. Hopefully, I’ll have the revised version up on Amazon by the end of the year.
Telling your story is your choice. Words of wisdom – think about it first. Decide what you want to share and why. Opening your heart and your life to others can be challenging. When you invite others in, it’s important to be willing to hear not only their compliments but also their criticism.
Cancer gives everyone a story, often painful and life-altering. Choosing to share that story should never be done under duress. You own the rights to it. Don’t ever allow someone to goad you into sharing details you aren’t ready to share. Remember, whether you share or don’t, it is your choice and only yours.
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