Doris Cardwell received a life-changing diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer in 2007. While undergoing treatment, she co-founded a mentor program for the cancer center treating her. She also created community events to educate, encourage and empower people regarding cancer. Doris was the first Survivorship Community Outreach Liaison for her local cancer center. She is an advocate, educator and encourager on issues facing cancer survivors. Doris is a wife, mother, empty nester, survivor of life and lover of all things coffee. An avid speaker and blogger, she is available at www.justdoris.com.
A cancer survivor encourages other patients and survivors to talk more about their thoughts as it may help ease their fears and concerns and help them accept their “new normal.”
When people receive a cancer diagnosis, something really cool happens. People tend to rally around. They might fundraise, make meals or run errands and these are wonderful things. Milestones get celebrated. People laugh and cry together. Treatment gets finished and life goes on.
For the cancer survivor, life often holds new things. Fears of recurrence may surface. Further testing and dealing with long- or late-term side effects may occur. If people around us have not experienced these things, they may be in the dark. It may be hard for them to know the level of difficulty these new challenges can bring.
It can be hard for survivors to talk about, for many reasons. First, friends and family do want us to be fine and finished with cancer. We kicked its butt, we fought it and we won! These new kinds of issues are tough to work through and many people struggle to navigate them. Often, I see people in cancer groups vent to each other. Many have no one to sit face–to–face with who will listen. This makes me sad because not being able to give our thoughts a voice can impede our emotional healing.
There are no wrong emotions at the end of cancer treatment. People who love us get frustrated when they can't help us not feel how we do. I am not saying those who love us should encourage constant rumination or sitting in a pit of despair. I am saying we need to be able to talk out our struggles. We need to be able to talk it out and know how we are normal. Giving a voice to our thoughts can help loosen the power they hold in us. The more we talk about them, the more we can work through the fears and concerns. We can accept our new normal. Our concerns may still be there, but they can have a lesser position in our minds, freeing us to move forward.
Hear my encouragement to find ways to talk about how finishing treatment may or may not be affecting you. If you have no one who lets you express your feelings without telling you how to feel, there are other options. Check with your doctor for local resources. Join a support group, online or in-person. Find a new friend who will listen. Journaling and blogging can also help loosen the grip on our minds.
I have come a long way. It has taken time. There was a day I thought if one more person said to me, “But you survived, didn't you?" I was going to scream. But now I have found a tribe of supportive friends who hear me now. Because of my sharing with them, they now are more supportive to those in their lives who face cancer. For this, I am truly thankful.
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