When you are diagnosed with cancer it takes the wind out of your sails. The immediate thoughts of ‘Am I going to die. What about my kids, they won’t have a mother if I do?’ these thoughts are gut wrenching. I cannot explain how this hits home. The life you thought was going to be forever is suddenly under threat and your body has let you down. It’s a lot to take in all at once. However, hearing that someone else has been diagnosed hits me harder, especially when it is someone I know. I know that sounds weird, but when I recall what I went through and the physical and mental angst I endured, I dread the thought of anyone else having to go through that. It’s a punch in the guts, and an awful feeling.
How do you help in this situation? What can I do to take away some of that pain and help? I’ve got nothing, except to be there when they reach out and let them know that they are not in this alone. I wrote about this in my book, and it is still something that I have trouble dealing with myself, but it’s the brick wall. The brick wall that holds everything in, something I have noticed pretty much every cancer patient I know has done. What do I mean about the brick wall you may ask? When I was going through my treatment, I erected the biggest, impenetrable brick wall that you could imagine. I surrounded myself with love and positive people. I also surrounded myself with an invisible wall and didn’t let anyone see me crumble behind it. I needed everyone to hold me up, so I believed that I needed to stay strong, positive and always have a smile on my face when I was around others. I couldn’t risk breaking down and showing them that I was literally broken, inside and out.
I was also handed the shitty hand with friends that have been in my life for years, turn their backs never to be heard from again. What did they think was going to happen? If they got close, they would catch cancer?? Here is a hot tip for you, IT’S NOT CONTAGIOUS! Not only was I dealing with the fear of the unknown, the literal pain of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, but I was also internally dealing with the heartache of so-called friends walking out of my life. I had a friend once say, “It’s all too hard, I can’t watch you go through this” and that is the last time I saw or heard from them. That’s not friendship, that’s not love, that’s bullshit. How does walking away help? It doesn’t! All that is doing is laying down a victim mentality on the doorstep and making it all about you. That type of person didn’t deserve to be in my life. Can you see now why the brick wall gets put up? That brick wall is to protect ourselves from anything else that may try and hurt us. I totally understand when others tell me about similar things happening to them, It makes my blood boil. Not only do people have to deal with cancer but their worlds get thrown so far from normal because people don’t know what to say or how to say it.
This is why I share my story and I speak up about cancer, The big C, apparently a word that cannot be said out loud, but why? Because it is feared. Why don’t people talk about it? The answer is simple, it’s because people don’t know how to deal with it! They worry about saying something wrong and upsetting the person. They worry that what they say won’t be enough. I can only speak from my own experience and that is, that I wanted to be treated like I always was! I was still the same person that I was, only I became the person who’s body was invaded by an unwanted disease that tried to kill me. I wanted to be treated normal, I craved normality. If it wasn’t enough that my life had been taken over by hospitals, doctors, treatments and everything began revolving around me every single day, I then had to deal with everyone else’s emotions. Be upfront and honest and say, “I don’t know what to say, but just know that I am here if you need anything.” It’s ok not to know what to say, it’s an awkward conversation both for you and them. Get that awkwardness out of the way and speak up, and make sure you are there! You don’t physically need to be present, but a phone call or a text message goes a long way, even if it is a small gesture like sending a heart emoji. Knowing that you have support behind you means the world.
A cancer diagnosis turns your world on its head. Your life will never be the same after hearing the words “you have cancer” … never! You may be able to beat it and come out the other side like I did and I will forever be grateful that I did, but now I live with a different kind of fear. Fear of if and when it may rear its ugly head again. How long do I have? Stupid things like, I have a sore toe, and the immediate thought of, shit is it cancer? It’s a fear that will eat you up if you allow it. The hardest thing I find though, is stepping away from what I call the ‘what if’ stage. Stepping away from all the what ifs because cancer is everywhere. I hear nearly on daily basis that someone else has been diagnosed. It’s on tv, I hear it at work, but worst of all I have to sit by and watch family and friends go through it, knowing where their heads are at. Knowing that the unimaginable fear that is weaving its way throughout their world is taking over. Knowing that I can’t stop that pain and I can’t do anything except for be there when I can and hold them up if needed. Just like I relied on some people to hold me up.
Then there is the other side of cancer, when it becomes clear that some people aren't going to beat it. How do you deal with that? How do you watch someone you love and adore lose their battle? Although harder again, you need to be there. You need to speak to your person and let them know what they mean to you. Again, this is an awkward conversation, but do not let that chance pass you by. Yes, it's hard, yes there are tears and pain that is on a whole new level, but I beg you, do not turn your back and walk away. Be there! I have been in this situation a few times now and I will forever hold those conversations close to my heart and through my tears I smile knowing that I was lucky enough to have that person be a part of my world.
I am trying to explain to people who ask questions, that it is ok to do so. I put myself out there with my story for this exact reason. I want people to ask the curly questions, because without asking them they are none the wiser and don’t understand. Everyone’s ‘journey’ (I hate that word!) is different and no two cancer patients are going to walk the same path, but we all have the same bumpy road of emotions. No one wants to die, no one wants to fight for their life, however some of us have had to.
We cancer patients aren’t brave, as bravery means ‘Ready to face and endure danger and pain.’ Who is ever ready for that? Courageous yes! Courage is the ability to do something that frightens you, it is strength when you face pain or grief. We face up day after day tackling this bastard head on. Please keep in mind that sometimes it all becomes a bit too much and we will go into hiding, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want you there. This means I have my own shit to be dealing with right now, so please give me space, but I still need you. Don’t disappear into the shadows. Be courageous!!
I have seen both sides of a cancer diagnosis. I wish to God every single day that cancer had not come into my life, but I also thank him for showing me what I’m made of. It’s a tough gig, and one that I sometimes wish I could turn off, but I can’t. At present I am watching one of my nearest and dearest go through this and it’s hard. I am a ball of emotions, being strong for them one minute and the next minute I’m a bloody mess with tears and snot everywhere. However, I must keep reminding myself that I was put on this earth to share my knowledge and help where I can. I allow myself to cry, I allow myself to feel, It’s hard and I wished that I could bury my head in the sand and come back out when the coast is clear, but that’s not me. Cancer is a part of my world now, although uninvited, it’s a part of me. I’ve had to accept that it will be for the rest of life, so instead of allowing it to be something dark and let it consume me, I choose to do good with it.
I like to think cancer came into my world so I can teach others not to fear it. To encourage people to talk about cancer, to ask questions and to somewhat understand it. To always Dream Big and to share my love and empathy with those who want it. I hate cancer as I dislike seeing what it does to people and their families and the pain it brings. All I can do is keep sharing, be there, hug them, chat with them, and let them know I’m not going anywhere, even if it's awkward. Even if sitting on the other side of the fence is hard!