I heard ‘Don’t let cancer define you’ a few times during my cancer treatments. My goal certainly wasn’t to let cancer define me but it just kinda overtook every thought in my head on its own. Once that monster was out of its cage, it was impossible to put it back in. Everything else had to be put on hold – whether temporarily, or permanently. At the time I wasn’t sure which one it was going to be.
I’m a pretty normal woman. I can handle myself, and throughout my life always have done what I can to help others with work, business, move a couch or whatever. Need help? Just ask. And that was my approach as I went into cancer treatment- to document the experience in an effort to help some future patient in my situation. To keep things positive, yet realistic and with a wee bit of humor too. I created a blog I kept up with, until the dreaded chemo brain and overall depression of the situation took me down a few weeks later.
“Just take care of YOU.” That’s what I was told repeatedly. I tried to continue to do that, and to be “normal”, but eventually, I had to accept that certain things were out of my control. Hanging on and praying for this all to end was all I could focus on, whether I liked it or not, and I could barely even focus on that.
All I could think about was cancer. And treatments. And the next appointment. And the never ending mind games of: was I gonna die? What were these side effects doing to me? Where these effects going to be permanent? Was the chemo working? Do I want to be buried if I die? Where do I want to be buried? What will happen to my family? On and on and on, day in, day out. Week in, week out, with no relief mentally. Those were my thoughts, 24/7, for months. Little else was on my mind and I had extreme difficulty thinking or talking about anything else. I was sure people were sick of hearing it, so I often just sat in silence and let the thoughts run wild with me. This is very bad idea which I don’t recommend…but I know that silencing those thoughts are much easier said than done.
People continued to tell me “Don’t let this define you”…but I did for a very long time, except not willingly or consciously. Eventually, it passed naturally, and other aspects of “normal life” worked its way back in as things calmed down. Does cancer define me? No. Is it part of my story? Undeniably. It’s not something I’m embarrassed of, shy about or afraid to talk about. There’s more to me, more to any of us, than just cancer. But it has an effect on our lives whether we share it publicly or not. I know I’ve changed as a person since my experience. I choose to use the experience to empower myself and fuel my anger towards what happened to me to do my part to fight back, either on my own behalf, which is still daily, or on the behalf of others. So no, it doesn’t define me as a person. But it definitely defines the fuel for my purpose and actions every day.
I have cancer.
I am not my cancer.