Setbacks Happen While Rebuilding Life After Cancer, But I Control What’s Next


I'm no longer the "helpless patient with cancer," though sometimes I need a reminder to keep myself in check.

My wife and I recently flew across the coast to visit family and friends in California. It’s always nice switching up the environment, getting away from our cramped New York City apartment to enjoy fresh scenery and having a chance to catch up with loved ones.

One aspect that can be challenging for me, however, is losing the sense of control I have back home. For years now, I’ve been on disability/medical leave, and with the help of alternative and holistic health specialists, have been healing myself at my apartment after conventional treatment failed to stop my cancer and doctors gave me a less than 10% survival rate.

I’m blessed that my situation has improved, but as my nervous system continues recovering from the trauma, reintegrating back into traditional society has proven… well, full of lessons. Over recent years, I’ve grown accustomed to not only controlling how I spend my day— diet, activities, spending, etc.— but also having people basically yield to what I’ve needed, me being the cancer patient and all.

And, well, now that my condition has improved and I’m starting to take on more in life, the world seems to be viewing me less as the “helpless cancer patient” and slowly raising its expectations of my contribution level. I don’t mean this in an unfair way, I think it’s totally natural and warranted, and for the most part this has led to tremendous self-growth. I need to push myself to show up for others more and get out of my own head, stop thinking only about my needs— that kind of thing.

But occasionally, I hit my limits. And on this given trip to California, my wife and I ran into a situation where I dropped the ball. We were out to dinner after a long day with friends and I handled myself poorly. I was overtired, couldn’t find anything on the menu in line with my diet or that I wanted, and felt everything was overpriced to begin with.

Instead of staying flexible and bringing good energy so we could all enjoy a great night together, I grew overwhelmed and experienced disassociation. I basically shut down, checked out and felt detached from my body. My nervous system had blown; I grew irritable, impatient and developed a false narrative in my head that everyone else was terribly inconsiderate for not noticing and responding to my needs. In fairness, that’s not at all an accurate representation of what was happening, it’s just what I was telling myself. And my negative energy was palpable.

Looking back, I’m ashamed about the way I handled myself. That’s not the person I strive to be. But at the same time, I try to remind myself that I didn’t mean to ruin the night or act selfishly (during the disassociation it felt like I’d become an outside spectator). I just ran into a new situation that knocked me down — a setback.

Later that trip, my wife and I were reminiscing through old photos and stumbled upon family holiday pics from a few years ago. There I was: bald, bloated and facially deformed from steroids and a year’s worth of chemo. It was a shocking sight; I literally don’t remember being inside that body. More disassociation, I suppose. Anyway, that moment offered me compassion and reminded me of all that I’ve been up against, and that it’s OK to have setbacks— that what matters most is getting back on my feet.

Back when doctors passed along such a scary cancer prognosis, there was nobody to turn to who could provide the answers to survival. I had to keep researching every single day, experimenting with new ideas and making constant adjustments. It was the scariest experience of my life. Yet, I kept with it and somehow pulled off a miracle.

My recent scan results have come back showing no disease evident.

Aside from the gift of life, this massive accomplishment has instilled in me the confidence to know that I can figure my way out towards leading a healthy and successful life after cancer as well. The setbacks are disheartening, and at times, monumentally embarrassing. But they’re a necessary part of reaching a more worthwhile destination. I just must learn from each growth opportunity and keep plugging along... One day at a time.

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