John Taylor never expected that at age 30 he would be a cancer survivor . . . Now what?
I am a cancer survivor. I am the first person in my family’s history to be able to say that. It is not a way I thought I would refer to myself at the age of 30 though. As blessed or lucky as I am, it doesn’t make me feel like the smiling faces of survival that plaster websites and oncology offices.
In fact, in TRUTH, I felt better mentally and emotionally while fighting the disease. That’s a bit messed up, right? Wrong. I find out more and more that this is relatively common and “normal” amongst cancer survivors.
Waves of sadness and anxiety wash over me from time to time. Often times I find myself in a depression for seemingly no reason. Survivors guilt? Maybe. Not knowing what the rest of life holds now? Maybe. Mostly, still getting over the shock of it all.
Being a survivor of cancer is supposed to be a wonderful thing. Don’t get me wrong, it is. No more chemo, no more extended hospital stays and antibiotics that tear your stomach to pieces. There’s no more wearing a mask out in public or having to keep myself under quarantine at the house. Those things are beautiful. As a human being though, the tendency to see negative above positive still exists. That’s the part of surviving that they don’t tell you about.
I wish more people had shared their post cancer blues with me before I reached that point. It’s been 4 months since my last chemotherapy treatment, 2 months since I was told the cancer was gone. Still, I struggle with fatigue and energy. I still have problems with nausea and not eating right. I still have extreme anxiety anytime I develop a cough, or runny nose, or something just doesn’t feel right. I immediately think “here we go again” about it all. And it is a depressing way to live.
I’m not alone I’m sure. Agony and sadness over not feeling “back to normal” soon enough cannot be mine alone. The questions of “Why did this happen to me” and “Why did I survive when so many have not” are always close to the surface of the mind. It takes its toll as days and months go on. There are days I have called my wife at work, crying uncontrollably just because I want someone physically here to tell me it’s all okay now, and things will get better. Some days I have to hide away in the bathroom so that my kids don’t see me weeping so hard. They have already endured enough that they don’t understand. How am I to explain something else that I cannot control and barely understand?
This is what I call the suck of survival. It’s not a physical effect as much as a mental one. It’s the not knowing how long it will take before you feel like yourself again. It’s the anxiety of trying to get back to your life. It’s the depression you feel when it takes longer than expected to start feeling well. There are days I can knock out my household chores, exercise, walk to the bus stop and back to get my son, and never feel tired at all. Then there are days where I can barely make it through the dishes and I feel weak and sometimes nauseous. There are the days I can eat like a maniac, and days where all I can stomach are Tums.
Life after cancer is a beautifully scary life. It’s having the rest of your life ahead of you after a time where life was quite unbearable. It’s having to understand that you may never understand many of the questions you have. It’s enjoying the things in life that helped you through, and morning the things you lost. It’s constant wonderment and wondering. That’s life after cancer. Not exactly what you will hear from most. But that’s how it is. It is something to be celebrated, but should also be something that is understood to contain much more than you anticipate. I encourage all survivors to talk with someone when the suck comes. Talk to other survivors, talk to family members, talk to anyone. You wouldn’t be the only one feeling like that, and never will be alone.