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.
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
- 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.