There are tons of support networks and websites and organizations designed to assist and support women as they go through breast cancer treatment. But what happens when treatment is over, when you are handed back your license to resume “normal” life?
I have fallen into this vacuum where my pre-cancer life doesn’t fit. It’s like being stuck in the birth canal, so uncomfortable and dark, struggling for breath.
Early spring of this year, after finishing chemotherapy, and with my newly grown baby soft peach fuzz coming in, I began to feel the mounting pressure of The Rest of My Life before me. The terrifying (and thankfully for me -death defying) cancer ride came to a screeching halt and I was cast off to figure out who I was and what I wanted and needed. On one hand, I felt a huge wave of relief that I had made it through, that I could rejoin society without fear of a depleted immune system, and that my newly emerging eyebrows and eyelashes could help disguise me to fit in with my fellow human beings. But who was I now? What DID I want?
When the triumphant celebration in my heart quieted down and when the survivor confetti was swept away, I was really quite petrified. I was writing and freelancing and barely getting by. With a year of my life to make up for, I did what I do when I get panicky and I got really busy. I set my nose to the grindstone and began to polish my resume. I applied for some jobs even though inside I felt totally un-hirable in spite of all my skills and talents. I felt like a LIABILTY.
What I did next may surprise you. I told no one, not even my husband or closest friends for a few weeks. I EXPUNGED my Facebook and LinkedIn profiles of any references to cancer treatment and my blog. I have referred to my blog as my lifeline and though it has helped me heal the emotional trauma of having cancer, I now felt that it left me vulnerable and exposed to judgement from the big ‘Head of HR’ or Hiring Manager in my fretful mind.
In the moment as I did it, it felt like I was white washing the whole entire year that had precipitated after hearing those scary words, “You have breast cancer.” Each time I hit delete I felt like I was declaring, “This is not who I am!” I am so much more than this series of unfortunate events. I was wiping the slate, making room for a new and improved version of myself. But only hours after I did this dissociative act, I began to feel lost and sad inside, like I had broken off from this core part of myself. I was not being authentic and brave. I was trying to conceal and hide. I went from declaring and claiming how I wanted things to be, to feeling ashamed of my cowardice.
It is important to share this because cancer or not, so many people out there will face big, scary life changes and challenges that will leave them feeling inadequate and of less value in comparison to the other Dick and Janes in the assembly line of life. I have so many questions. How do we share openly and honestly, to be vulnerable with each other and still feel safe and shielded from judgement? How much do you bring to the table when putting yourself out there in seeking a new job, a new relationship, a loan or a place to live? How has social media and the internet opened up the cracks in all of our lives? How do we bring the best of ourselves forward when inside we are still hurting or struggling, or are faced with physical limitations and pain? What value do we bring when we are not feeling polished and whole, but are struggling with our weakness, our inadequacy and vulnerability?
I have been forming this post in my mind for months now. A friend who is struggling with her own serious health issues told me recently just how much my blog has touched her. I was acknowledging her for her strength and perseverance and she surprised me by turning it around and saying how inspired and moved she has been by my blog and the telling of my story, that I have inspired her to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It was a powerful reminder to me that I have more to tell, and more to share. I can never tidy up this last year. I can only continue to unpack it, to examine it and let it grow me.