Has Cancer Survivorship Made Me Weak?


After surviving cancer, I’ve developed complex post-traumatic stress disorder, which comes with feelings of insecurity and anger.

I’m at a conflict with how I would categorize myself. I’m a four-time cancer survivor who also survived an abusive marriage and care for a son who is disabled. I’ve met each challenge with determination and strength to meet goals to persevere, achieve and forge ahead.

I’m 49, and my reactions have now grounded themselves in anxiety, fear of abandonment and rejection, neediness and constant worry. What happened to that strong girl that everyone thought was the strongest person they knew? Did I become weak?

I’m no doctor, but I’ve been through enough medical situations to put on a lab coat if I needed to. I feel very secure in how I speak and my decision making with my doctors. In my work life, I am resolute and confident, yet when it comes to my personal relationships, I find myself feeling small, insignificant, scared and like a beggar chasing after others even if I realize I am being treated unfairly or even abusively? Why is this happening to me?

Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have suffered from long-term trauma (hello cancer survivors!) but complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) is associated with the disorder when that trauma causes difficulties regulating emotions or feeling angry and distrustful.

Reading that definition makes me feel less like a weakling. I chase others when they do something wrong to me and then shut me out. I constantly attempt to fix things, make others happy, give to a fault and smile through the pain because I am so afraid of loss and get so stuck in that mental ditch.

I’m not suggesting all survivors suffer this way, but the trauma of cancer can affect the brain and relationships with others, potentially through CPTSD.

Talking to others can help these feelings, though I’ve found that sometimes even family members may make me feel guilty or say things like “buck up” or “come on you have gone through cancer, why can’t you pull yourself together now?” This type of communication is negative and detrimental.

For me, finding a safe person to talk to has been challenging. I have gone through numerous therapists and finally found a former client who is a life coach who allows me to purge my thoughts and doesn’t judge me. I’m not used to kindness. I think I don’t deserve it at times. When someone fawns over me I tend to run from it. When someone is cruel to me, I tend to run towards it. I know this.

Too often when I suffer mentally, I suffer in silence. If I've fought hard enough to live, I must fight harder to learn that I deserve love, joy and appreciation from others as well as myself.

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