Amazed, grateful and humbled are all words I used to describe my feelings after my November 30, 2010 surgery to remove the remains of my second non-mucinous colonic-type appendiceal adenocarcinoma tumor. After this debulking surgery, I had no evidence of disease (NED) and a new chance at life. As I mentioned in my last post, I am grateful for enjoying my first cancer-free year as of November 30, 2011. So much to be thankful for, right?
But then I was blindsided by overwhelming feelings of sadness, anxiety, pain and loneliness shortly after this first anniversary date. I cried at the drop of a hat, wasn’t able to get anything ready for Christmas, and barely made it to my daughter’s piano recital for our duet. To top it off, I couldn’t even go with the family to pick out the Christmas tree. Instead, I was crying on the couch and feeling overwhelmed. Craziness!
The fact that I had a very brief breast cancer scare on the first anniversary of my life-changing surgery probably started the cascade of emotions that I was going to feel over the next month. Then a couple of appendix cancer folks passed away. And then, ironically, I learned that the one-year anniversary was probably the main culprit. I know the anniversary of a loved one’s death can be very difficult. But the first anniversary of my renewed chance at life? What was there to be sad about?
Nothing for the obvious reasons. And yet everything because throughout this entire ordeal, I had been holding it together and hadn’t let myself fully feel the swirling emotions. But as of the first anniversary of my surgery, I finally came crashing down. When I couldn’t pick myself up quickly, I was hard on myself and began asking questions like:
- How could I be feeling down after an amazing recovery?
- Am I not appreciative for another year of life?
- Why don’t I just change my perspective and look on the bright side again?
- I’m alive. Isn’t that enough?
All good questions. However, I am learning that post-cancer survivorship is not that simple. Post-cancer survivorship comes with its own set of issues. Don’t worry, I experienced grief during the “living with cancer” phase, too. But I would shut those feelings down in order to fight. But experiencing grief is all part of the process. The grief is real and must be dealt with. Some issues that I have been working through:
- Worrying about my health and coping with the fear of cancer returning.
- Coping with anxiety and stress about things, significant and otherwise.
- Feeling angry.
- Feeling alone. It’s impossible to understand this unless you’ve been through it.
- Looking for meaning again after all that I’ve been through.
- My family. What toll has it taken on everyone?
- Friends. How do I relate to others? And how do others relate to me? I value my friendships differently now.
I underestimated the impact of BEING WELL and, consequently, how I would deal with it in light of all that came before. How could I know? I’ve never been here before. That’s why it’s taken me over a month to write a post again. I had so much to say but couldn’t get it out. But with the help of my family, my wise friend that I talk to occasionally, and just letting myself have some time to process, I feel like I am coming out of the darkness into a good place again. I now know all these feelings are normal and that there is nothing wrong with me when I don’t feel joyous all the time about surviving. Grief comes and goes.
Upon reflection, this life-changing situation has given me the chance to grow, learn, and appreciate what’s important. It’s not necessarily a journey I would have chosen for myself but it is the path I am on and it presents the opportunity to look at things in a different way. And I am very thankful for that opportunity in spite of everything.
courage doesn’t always roar.
sometimes courage is the
quiet voice at the end of the day saying,
“i will try again tomorrow.”
-a cancer survivor