Handling Change as a Cancer Survivor


Breast cancer and melanoma survivor ponders the impact of cancer on her capacity to cope with life changes.

I have had a lot of change in the past month. None of it, fortunately, is cancer related. Still, there has been change — I was diagnosed with sleep apnea and I am trying to work with my continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine (which so far has not helped reduce my fatigue), my husband is changing jobs, we purchased a lake place in nearby Wisconsin and are getting it settled, and we have become empty-nesters this fall and plan to downsize our in-town living arrangements, which means selling our home and finding a smaller one. That is a lot of change.

Up until now, I have tried to be proactive and positive about these changes — excited about hunting for cabin furniture and enjoying the outdoors and ATV riding by the cabin. This week, however, there have also been tears and sadness. Maybe as a cancer survivor, any changes are more difficult? Maybe as a cancer survivor, I just feel more vulnerable to emotions. I don’t know.

I feel off. The house is empty. My husband helped our oldest before heading for an all-day trip to Appleton, Wis., to get an aluminum trailer. I hunted on craigslist for used cabin stuff. When I get multiple things going, it gets a little overwhelming and becomes less fun. Is multi-tasking harder for cancer survivors? For chemotherapy survivors?

We took our second daughter to Philadelphia and it was four days of hard work and lots of money, and then even before getting home, we went to look at a craigslist cabin mattress and then cabin headboards. I am tired. I am not even sure I want to pull out and deal with the emotions right now. I have the radio on and try to nibble away at things bit by bit.

The cabin will be a new adventure for my husband and me — new friends, old friends, a different lifestyle. We can sell if it doesn’t work. Staying in our big old house will start to require lots of maintenance money. We have been pretty lucky. Plus, we literally have empty rooms and it is just the two of us. I will always love this country place with its neighbors, openness and fabulous views from every window, and it is time to start moving on. It will be a lot of work, especially on top of the cabin now. Maybe more activity will be good, but I want it to be mindful work not just busy work. I want to feel and think my way through this process.

I look at the artwork made by my daughters and the family travel photo collages in my kitchen and my heart just aches. I think about “what if we could afford to stay in the house, without the large home equity loan and have the cabin?"

But staying here would probably still feel too big and empty — like trying to live in the past. I wouldn’t like being so far away from our neighbor friends who are also downsizing in town and who also have a cabin near our new one. I don’t want to sit in a big empty house watching friends and family move away and wait for the other shoe to drop.

We are at a point of big changes. Hopefully, we can create positive changes and move forward to new adventures. I think that is what my husband is trying to do and I am grateful that he is helping to pull me along and release my tight grasp of ... what? Now? The past? Resistance to change? I am not sure.

I know I don’t do change well and I get to practice this skill. I am not patient, waiting for it all to sort out, and I get to practice this skill. As I sit here listening to the bassoon part of a classical piece on the radio, tears come to my eyes. I miss my daughters. I am going to miss this place, and people are always more important than place.

We will have new adventures at the cabin as a family and wherever else we land in town, I know this, but tears roll down my face. I am glad I took time to write after all and I am grateful for the quiet peaceful space I took to do it. How do you cope with life changes as a cancer survivor? Do you think change is harder because you are a cancer survivor? What helps you to cope?

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