Sometimes I wish everyone around me could feel what it’s like to be a cancer patient for one day.
And then in that same breath, I think, I wouldn’t wish this disease on my worst enemy, let alone the ones around me that support and love me.
Some days it’s so difficult to get people to understand what a cancer patient goes through in a day. The thoughts that run through our minds. The people that come up to us daily to tell us about their friend that is newly diagnosed or just died of the same disease we have. The mental fight that goes on in our minds every day. The friends and acquaintances that come to you daily with their problems that seem so important and life altering to them, and all you can think about is how you wish choosing what school your kid will go to was your biggest problem in life.
And then, you feel awful for thinking that because you love them dearly and don’t want to ever diminish their problems and make them seem small compared to yours.
Most days I remind myself how lucky I am that I got one of the “good” cancers. And by that I mean, one that wasn’t stage 4 and a prognosis of “you have six to 12 months to live.”
Sadly, I feel blessed my cancer was “only” stage 3C. I had options like surgery and chemo. Others aren’t so lucky. I’m thankful that the oral chemo I’m on is working. So many of my friends that are battling this ugly disease that have been on constant chemo since they’ve been diagnosed are having such a hard time. I can’t even imagine how hard their life is. I’ve had 37 chemo treatments and I know my body will never be the same. But that’s OK. I’m alive.
It’s so hard to learn how to set boundaries as a cancer patient. To learn how to say no when someone asks if you can call their friend’s friend who was just diagnosed and needs someone to talk too because they’re scared. You feel incredibly guilty because you want to be a support system and offer help, but you also have to put your mental health first and protect your energy. You have to come to a place where you realize you can’t be everything to everybody. That the reason you started your website was to provide a resource for cancer patients all over the country because you knew there would come a time when you wouldn’t be able to personally help everyone. And with that, comes all kinds of guilt too.
It is so hard to learn how to set boundaries as a cancer patient.
It’s hard to explain to employees, friends, family members, acquaintances, strangers that you can’t do the things you did in your precancer life. You can’t run 100 errands, walk the dog, solve everyone’s problems, go to the grocery store, come home and make dinner, take care of everyone else’s needs and then put yours last. Mostly because we don’t have the energy to do all of that. But also because we don’t want too. We want to spend our time healing our bodies. Protecting our precious energy. Resting our minds. Smelling the beautiful spring flowers. Making memories with our family members. You know…all those things that make life so special.
We have this one body. This one life to live. And when you get diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and told your chances of making it five years are less than 30 percent, you learn to live each day with purpose, passion and love. You don’t let the things that would have bothered you before, bother you anymore. Suddenly those petty things that happen in life every day, don’t seem all that important. You realize the most important thing in life is YOU. Your heart. Your mind. Your body. Your soul. Your energy. And your time spent with loved ones. I tell people all the time when I leave this earth there are two things I’ll leave behind…my memories I made with my loved ones and my legacy. For me, my prayer every night is that people remember me as someone who always wanted to help other people. And that my family and friends know that I lived each day with purpose. A purpose of waking up each day and being grateful. Even in the most difficult of times. Grateful for the time I’ve been given to spend with loved ones making memories.
I’ll never forget someone telling me that through this process of healing and fighting cancer that I’d lose some friends and many of my relationships would change. No truer words have ever been spoken. There are those who will understand why you said no to their invitation to dinner or a movie. And there are those that won’t understand. Some will understand your need to protect your energy or your need to go to dinner with your mom instead because she’s been there for you since the day you were born and you know how precious that time is with her as she gets older too.
Cancer is a complicated, f-ed up disease. It will wear you down mentally and physically if you let it. You can choose to let it consume your life and fill you with fear every day or you can choose to wake up with joy and have gratitude for another day here. I choose the latter. So if I say no, or don’t feel like cooking, running to the store, making the bed, going to the movie, meeting for drinks … it isn’t because I don’t want too. I’m probably tired from my day. I may just need to protect my energy for something that’s coming up on my schedule. I may not feel good. I have my days too where I don’t feel 100 percent. I’m not even sure what feeling “normal” feels like anymore. My doctor always tells me this is my “new normal.” Whatever that means. To me it means your body as you knew it before cancer is gone. Hello, new body! I’m proud of you for enduring two massive surgeries, 37 IV chemos, and now, a year of oral chemo. So we can choose to see the good that comes out of this disease, or we can choose to see the bad. Your choice. I know what mine is.
Just remember next time you’re speaking to a friend that’s going through a tough illness or diagnosis that just because she looks “normal” doesn’t mean she isn’t struggling inside. We all have demons we fight every day. We all have days we don’t feel good or happy or joyful. Tomorrow’s a new day. A chance to start over. Be patient with each other. Be kind. Offer to run an errand or bring them a meal. Not all cancer patients are bald and skinny. Some of us look completely “normal” but still need help in our lives. We can’t do everything for everybody. And the sooner we learn to say no, the better off we are for ourselves and our health. Protect your energy. Nurture your soul. Love yourself. After all, we only have one shot at this life. And not a damn one of us knows how long we’re going to be here. Cancer or not.
STAY STRONG my friends.