How can I really explain it to you if you haven’t experienced it yourself?
I have always been a pretty positive person. Oh of course I struggle with battles in my mind. Always dancing around the edges of depression. Yet I have ALWAYS found a way to find the silver lining or sense of humor in every situation.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was so optimistic and remained positive. I was scared but focused on fighting. My mantra was: “there is no crying in cancer”. I laughed a lot. I tried to make others laugh more. I made the people around me smile. I worked hard to be me. I had a purpose, workout through all of chemotherapy. Be an inspiration. Prove that I really am as strong as people keep saying I am.
Then the weekly visits with the doctors come to an end. You’re in remission, chemo is done, the worst is now past you. And suddenly you feel very alone. Alone dealing with the mental part of the disease. Alone dealing with the aftermath of a now scarred and misshapen body. Alone dealing with the hidden changes like fatigue, hot flashes, chemo brain. Alone with the thoughts of recurrence and genetic mutations.
That is when the real demons set in. The aftermath.
I read an article the other night about someone dealing with PTSD after her cancer fight. It hit a little too close to home for me. She was to the point of having panic attacks. I am not there. Fingers crossed I will never be there. Yet I identified with her. I understand the thoughts in her head. I understand. I really struggle with my job now. I panic because I can’t recall half of the things I should know. I don’t retain information from one day to the next. I used to really enjoy it, the challenges, the learning aspect, the people. Now in the aftermath, I only like the people. It has become joyless and frustrating and emotional. I am done. That is my PTSD aftermath.
I have become physically vulnerable. Meaning, I fight so hard to just do 10 minutes of exercise a couple of times a week. Meaning, every ache and pain is now something I worry about being a new cancer or a new side effect of the cancer treatments. Meaning, that I am afraid to lay down at night because sleep will just elude me and I can’t control it.
Many people don’t or won’t understand. It is a very ‘the cancer is gone so get over it’ mentality. The more they see me being “normal” the harder it is for them to understand I am not the same and I will never be the same again.
Cancer can make you stronger. It can reawaken the good in you. It can inspire you to move on to more noble and purposeful things. It gives you the mindset of second chances and new beginnings. Fighting to find that courage to be stronger in mindset and in physical condition and to be good from the inside out is where the fight begins.
I am here to tell you the fight never ends.
I have decided to stop referring to myself as a ‘survivor’. I chose to be called fighter.