Finding the Balance Between Self-Care and Resilience After Cancer

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I spent most of the past decade obsessed with self-preservation. After being diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare and aggressive bone cancer, this was necessary for my survival.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Steve Rubin

I’d lost trust in the universe and my nervous system was absolutely fried. Danger seemed to lurk in every direction, with the stakes being life or death.

Even as scan results improved and my situation appeared more stabilized, I struggled to let my guard down. Part of what I believed attributed to turning my health around was a radical lifestyle overhaul— keeping a clean diet, managing stress, getting enough sleep, all my healing regimens. Any time I stepped out of my bubble (basically my apartment), I struggled with control issues.

Eating out, I found it hard to find options in line with my diet. Being out for too long in social situations taxed my nervous system as I’d gotten rusty and lost touch with the social graces I used to feel more in step with. And thinking about going back to my old high-stress job made my stomach turn.

My support system, who’d been through the ringer with me during cancer, encouraged me to rest, recover and generally avoid situations that overexerted me. They’d gone through the ride with me — chemo, surgeries, recurrences… of course a conservative approach seemed justified!

So that’s what I stuck to for a while. It felt safe and comfortable. And after years of being poked, prodded and taking on life-or-death struggles, I felt content just being left alone. Give me a cup of coffee, a book, a movie, a little music… I was chilling!

But eventually, I realized this approach wasn’t serving me as much as I thought. At times, it even worried that I was holding myself back by overly coddling myself instead of considering alternative views — what if I did push myself to take on more? How would that work? What might come from that?

The reality was that I had already lost valuable years of my life. I was diagnosed at 30 years old and spent the better part of the decade in treatment. That’s years and years of memories and experiences I’ll never get back.

Also, while I found myself lucky to be on disability and receive so much support from friends and family, in the end it was up to me to get back on my feet and rebuild a future.

Despite the uncertainty, fear and discomfort of whatever might lie ahead, in the back of my mind, I recognized that I wanted to get back to living instead of just surviving.

So today, I’m pushing my comfort zone more and prioritizing resilience in the face of tension. I’m working to recognize when my controlling tendencies are getting in the way of personal development and reminding myself to try and let go.

And when it all feels overwhelming, I try and remind myself to slow down and just take it one good decision at a time.

Baby steps, but forward motion, none-the-less.

Throwing myself into new, unfamiliar situations reintroduces more risks; I get that and it can feel scary. But it also offers the potential for much higher rewards. And at the end of the day, what have I worked so hard for if I’m not going to make the most of the remaining life that I do have?

There can still be much more to our stories after cancer. I truly believe that and I’m looking forward to what’s ahead.

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