Life After Cancer: Picking Up the Pieces

Strength Quote thumbnail
You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have. This quote perfectly describes my experience with cancer. I was forced to gain an immense sense of strength that I never knew I had. Somehow, during treatment, I found the compassion and self-love I needed to get myself through those painful times. The outpour of support from friends and family and the guidance and love from my husband made me feel less alone. I also found inspiration in the community of those fighting beside me. I had one very simple goal —  survive. The sad truth is that surviving isn’t the end of the battle.  Instead I’m left picking up the pieces and trying to put my life back together.

Surviving cancer is like life after war

In the heat of battle all that you think about is survival.  You do everything you can to win without thinking about the consequences. Then the dust settles and you begin to see the cost of those decisions and in my case the long term effect of my treatment. (Julia)

I made it to the finish line and after stopping for a moment to celebrate my “success”,  life just continued on. The care packages stopped, the phone stopped ringing and the day to day monotony took over. That powerful, horrible life-altering experience that was cancer threatens to fade away forcing me to confront the shards of my life that remain. My body aches, my mind is foggy and I feel as if I have aged 10 years, but on the outside no one would know. My hair is growing back and the people around me fall into their ever so familiar patterns. I look “normal” again, but, the scars remain — everyday reminders of my pain, my loss, and my suffering. Cancer has taken so much more than just my body.

I thought I was prepared for life after cancer, but I could not have been more wrong. I am in awe at how difficult it is to conjure up that same strength that I so recently possessed. That confidence that I came to trust during treatment has now escaped me and the self compassion I practiced has faded away. Now that I am no longer actively fighting for my life, the everyday problems that were temporarily forgotten have come back in full view. The insecurities I used to harbor have come back to haunt me. The fact that I fought cancer and lived to tell the tale, should make me strong enough to face anything, but the truth is I feel weaker than ever.

How can I have grown so much and then return to the same insecurities and fears?  Why is it so hard to practice what I have written? Those positive words of encouragement I see on the pages before me, bring me little comfort now. I try to tell myself that this too shall pass as it always does, but this moment seems so large and these emotions are so strong. No cute survivor slogan is going to get me out of this funk. It’ll take hard work and acceptance of my fear, anger & discomfort.  It’s now a matter of finding the energy to continue the fight, this battle that continues long after the last day of chemo.

My Action Items for Change

  • Reread my self compassion letters
  • Write more letters of self-compassion focused on patience
  • Ask myself: Will this matter in 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months or 3 years?
  • Spend time outside
  • Exercise
  • Start/continue reading one of the many books I purchased about personal contentment, happiness and personal growth

If you are feeling down, I hope this post makes you feel less alone in your struggle, and if you are in a great place right now, I hope this post brings you an appreciation for your strength.

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8 comments

  1. Linda says:

    My daughter is preparing for chemo. Your beautifully written blog has helped me understand what she is facing. So many will share your thoughts as you heal and I m sure will hang on to your positive words as they look for the light at the end of treatment. Please know your fellow survivors are with you in spirit and that you are part of their profoundly strong family. I thank you for sharing your story.?

    • Anna says:

      Linda, Your words really touched me. This is the exact reason I started sharing my story and opening my world up for others to see. I am so glad to hear that my writing has helped you in some way. I am so sorry to hear your daughter has to go through chemo but I know she will find the strength she needs to persevere. In our darkest hour we can always find some light and I hope to hear your feedback much more. Readers like you keep me going and bring me such joy.

  2. Moira says:

    Anna, I’ve been feeling and journaling almost the SAME emotions and experiences. Cancer survivors go through a phase of PTSD almost….the after shock. Its a thoughy, thank you for sharing so openly. It inspires me.

    • Anna says:

      Moira, I am so relieved to know I am not alone. Even though we hear that it’s normal to go through these emotions and experiences, it can feel so isolating. Thank you for sharing your story and your successes and struggles with me. I am so glad to have met you.

      • Debra Zinn says:

        HI Anna,

        Thank you for writing another beautiful story about your journey. . This is so helpful to your circle of family and friends to show that people that survive cancer or anything traumatic need support, love and care in the aftermath, maybe even more. The Zinn family admired you for the wonderful person and teacher that you were before cancer and we admire you even more now. You are the same wonderful person and probably an even better version! I hope you can see and remember that when you are feeling down.

  3. Jessie Bishop says:

    This is beautifully written, even as hard as it is for me to feel your suffering through your words.

    I believe through some of our conversations I understand a bit how you feel during this time. The shift “during” and “post” cancer fight must be so jarring.

    Speaking as a supporter, it is easy to look at your beautiful, noble land mermaid exterior and forget about the things that you have to deal with internally. I will do my best to remember that.

    I will continue to stand by you, no matter what you’re dealing with inside or out. (Even if when we were out together in the thick of your chemo treatments, you were still 100% more put together and chic than me. Standing beside her is hard y’all.)

    • Anna says:

      OMG! I love that about my mermaid exterior. It is so true that I project one image and that doesn’t encompass all of my internal struggles but you have been there for me no matter what!

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