Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” The healing power of sharing my cancer story compelled me to found WWGN. I'm an inspirational speaker, contributor at CURE and Positively Positive, Huffington Post blogger, support volunteer with Cancer Hope Network, member of the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center Oncology Community Advisory Board, patient educator with Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project, wife and mother, and a former very stressed out lawyer.
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Running on Empty - Coping with Cancer Stress
Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. Albert Camus
For those of us blissfully past the cancer diagnosis and treatment stages, the outward signs of life as a "patient" are long gone. Our hair has grown back, we've recovered from surgeries, and our scars lay hidden under our clothes. We are certainly healthier, and we should be happier, right? But the transition from patient to cancer survivor is not an easy one and the new normal brings its own cancer stress.
Even for prisoners, the re-entry phase into normal society is usually gradual, but such is not the case for most cancer survivors. Family and friends want to return to normal life as soon as possible, and who can blame them? The cancer survivor wants that too, of course. But what we want is not always what we are capable of achieving, which causes even more cancer stress (and often, full-blown cancer anger.) After all we have been through, we are running on empty and only capable of so much.
What is "normal" after cancer, anyway? Now that I must visit my oncologist every six months for the rest of my life, it's become normal. Unfortunately, it's also normal to be anxious before each visit. My last visit was the worst, because I thought I had a small lump in my one remaining breast. I waited the two weeks between the discovery and the appointment, certain it was nothing. Of course, by the time I got there, I was a wreck. Not telling anyone, to keep them from worrying, worked fine when I was in denial. But, it was really awful when I was in full-blown cancer stress.
And what about the yearly mammograms, which have caused panic for two years running? Both times I was called back for more tests, thus re-enacting Cancer Year One. How do you process the new normal cancer stress when it feels exactly like the patient cancer stress? Keep telling yourself you've got all kinds of support you didn't have the first time, etc., etc., etc. Still.....I am stressed out.
Over the past several months, I've been feeling a malaise which isn't depression, but steers well clear of happy. It took me months to realize that the culprit is most likely the tamoxifen I've been taking for the past 28 months. I've been sleeping very badly for a long time now, sometimes waking up three to four times a night. That too is becoming normal, which is why it took me so long to realize it probably had something to do with my unhappiness during the daylight hours. I'm still figuring out what to do about that.
There's also the physical side-effects of my surgeries, which cause pain in my abdomen. No one can see it, so no one knows about this cancer stress. It's my new normal and mine alone. Did I mention cancer loneliness as another cancer stress?
Finally, don't get me started on the cancer stress caused each October, when pinkification falls on you like an avalanche of kitsch. And, because I know I'm complaining, I'm cringing with survivor's guilt, yet another cancer stress. I know how lucky I am, especially as compared to so many who are struggling with so much worse. I just wish none of us had to suffer the life-long effects of our cancer diagnosis.
It's so easy to fall into the dark side of the new normal, where running on empty is taken for granted because it's just the way it is now. I have to keep trying to focus on yoga, breathing, writing, mindfulness, exercising, and zentangle art to counterbalance this effect. Is your new normal taking all of your energy? What do you do to reinvigorate yourself?
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