Emotions of Cancer: Grief


Managing emotions can be difficult, but it's important to treasure what you have while you have it.

There have been many moments during my sister’s cancer battle when we were out of options. As such, it has been a fairly difficult concept for me to not grieve for her before she is actually gone. It has been hardest when her prognosis was so bleak that we thought the end was drawing near. When those times would come, I tried to prepare myself for what losing her would be like, and how different life would be without her in it, hoping that I would be ready, when logically, I know that one is never ready.

As a family member, you constantly have to adjust to what it is that your loved one is becoming. At times, it has been somebody who can’t hold a toothbrush because of peripheral paralysis. Sometimes she was so nauseas that she didn’t eat for days or other days she had persistent falls from neuropathy. For me, I had a large sense of loss with her onset of cancer. The grief that I have felt has been devastating. At times, she has been the one losing the battle, but the ones who love her suffer all the same.

Learning how to process all of our darker emotions has been a struggle. Practicing how to best let these feelings out and not let them build to a crescendo is something that I am always working on. Writing out my thoughts in a journal has helped in specifically writing whatever thoughts were racing through my head when I don't have the energy to verbalize them. Other helpful methods to process emotions are long walks with my dog, support groups and music.

When everything was going wrong, I did not know what else to do with myself. I tried my best to anticipate what the grief would one day feel like. To wake up and know that she was gone. Or to think about the holidays with one less plate setting at the table. I didn’t realize it when it is happening, but I was prematurely grieving. In doing so, I was missing the moments that she was here for. No matter how hard this has been, I can honestly say that I never wished for this to be over, because even when she was at her lowest of lows, this being over meant that she would be gone.

Though I know that grief is a natural emotion, like most, I am not comfortable feeling or experiencing it. I am grieving because of the sense of loss, but she is not yet gone. The mere thought of losing her is confounding. Most of all, the persistent thoughts of unknowns permeate my mind in endless loops with the fear of what may lie ahead. Life in general is full of endless uncertainty and ever-changing circumstance. Cancer simply has magnified those feelings for me.

Throughout these last two years, I have experienced nearly all of what society calls “the stages of grief.” I’ve felt a sense of shock from the fact that she was diagnosed at all. I’ve been confused as to why the initial diagnosis wasn’t enough for her to handle, but she continued to have so many complications. I’ve felt the sadness of watching her suffer and being unable to fix it. I’ve been perplexed and in search of the reasons as to why it had to happen. And I’ve grieved for the person I knew, who is sometimes a person who I don’t recognize. The one part of grief that I haven’t experienced is acceptance.

Even as I have been by her side throughout, I do not know that I will ever learn to accept was happened to her. The funny thing about cancer is that there is often nobody to blame. Specifically, when it comes to Hodgkin lymphoma, there is no reasoning behind it. It is something that just happens indiscriminately.

As her sister, it is hard to comprehend how life could be so cruel to one human being. Logically, I know that all of this has happened, and I can’t go back, undo or change any of it. Still though, it is hard to not want to wake up from the nightmare that life became on July 11, 2014.

Just as with anybody else in life, my experience has been unique to me. In the end, there is no map as to how we are supposed to live this life, let alone, how you are supposed to navigate something as complex as cancer. For me, I think the most important thing that I have come to realize is that you shouldn’t grieve somebody before they are gone.

She is now in remission, but I still struggle with the thought of losing her to this terrible disease. What I try to remember is that someday she will be gone. My hope is that it is when she is 90, has lived a full life and that it has nothing to do with cancer. That will be the day that I grieve for her loss. Not now. Not while she is still here with us. Now is the time to be present and make the memories that, two years ago, I didn't think that we would have the chance to be making.

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Dr. Kelly Stratton
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