Grateful After Cancer

I write a monthly blog here at Trulife Breastcare, and I never seem to run out of topics. I find this to be somewhat disturbing as it signals that my tangle with breast cancer is not over and likely never will be.

It’s been almost seven years now, and still the blog posts flow. The never-ending breast cancer saga is something that we learn to live with, and after a reasonable amount of time, I think we eventually come to terms with our life changes and maybe even accept them.

To some degree, though, many of us will continue to struggle and maybe even harbor some resentment regarding the aftermath it brings. In spite of this, I think we can all agree that gratefulness is something we don’t run low on in the breast cancer community.

If you’ve ever gotten the cancer news, I’m sure you know first-hand that we also don’t run low on survivor’s guilt, recurrence fear and “scanxiety”. And I think that’s why it’s such a sting when, in response to our feelings about issues we still deal with, others sometimes tell us we should “just be grateful.”

We ARE grateful. We are grateful every day that we wake up, take another breath and kiss our kids, parents and spouses. We are grateful for our ability to function even if it’s at a reduced rate due to chemo, radiation, surgery and medication after-cancer issues. We are grateful to live another day, go to work one more time, take a vacation, and watch our kids play sports, dance in a recital, cheer at a game or graduate from high school. Trust.

No one is more grateful than us. And that’s why it’s hard to read the comments I see on other survivor friends’ posts as I’m scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed. I think we generally post what we know, so while others are posting pics of their holidays and family time, we’re posting about our surgeries, treatments, and more importantly, our feelings about them.

Treatment is a very trying experience – one that can take months, well over a year, and in some cases, a lifetime. And it never fails. There’s always that one person who plays the “at least you’re alive” card and solicits the “you should be grateful” advice.

Of course we’re happy to be alive. Of course we’re grateful. And, of course, some of us might still be mourning our losses and working through them. Listen, if you’re reading this, and you haven’t gone through cancer yourself, the well-meaning advice is not so helpful, and sometimes, it’s not received well by the person you hope to comfort with it. In fact, often it only promotes guilt within us.

We tend to mask how we really feel because we already deeply internalize our experiences and truly feel we actually SHOULD just be grateful. To feel anything otherwise seems selfish.

Missing breasts, scars, phantom pains, neuropathy, weight gain, and a vast array of other side effects and lingering reminders are difficult to process. In the midst of our conflicting feelings alternating between gratefulness and resentment, we struggle.

If you’ve never experienced a cancer diagnosis, the “at least you are alive” comments might seem logical to you. But the count-your-blessings statements I read all too often undermine the survivor’s healing process. We are not having a pity party.

We are feeling loss, sadness, and yes, even resentment to some degree after a critical illness. I think it’s the only way to move forward to acceptance. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t grateful. On the contrary, it’s quite natural to want our old lives back – especially when we naively think life will return as we once knew it.

I really don’t think people mean to sucker punch us like this. To others it may seem like we complain a lot. Maybe we do, but I maintain that cancer is a complicated psychological process, and long after the physical threat is gone, we peel back the leftover mental layers of our diagnosis. Just when we think we’ve finally reached the core, we find there are more hidden layers. It’s frustrating.

Have patience with us. Let us get it out. Love us anyway. We’ll work through it, but it will take time. And we will be forever grateful for your understanding.

Keep livin’ victoriously,
Victorious Val

Follow Val on Facebook at Victorious Val & the Breast Cancer Crusaders