For others, they talk about the devastation to their life and the impact it has had on themselves and their family. How can people view the impact of a cancer diagnosis so differently? Is cancer a gift? It’s a question that warrants a deeper look and insight.
Indulge me in a quick story……..
I remember talking to a lady one day. Her name is Anne and she was in her late sixties. On this day, Anne had her silver hair loosely hanging at her shoulders. She had a beautiful floral a-line dress on and she looked radiant. I had known Anne for a number of years, as she was a client at my firm. I hadn’t seen her for a couple of months and I had never seen her look so happy and engaged. I wondered what had changed for her!
We spoke as we usually did and I complimented her on her vibrancy and how wonderful she looked. Then, Anne explained why and as she spoke, the horrified look on my face must have given me away. What she said to me next took me aback and took my breathe away.
I couldn’t have guess what would come next
Anne explained that her husband had passed away a couple of months earlier. I am sure you can understand now why my face contorted in confusion. In that split second, I tried to reconcile how the passing of her husband, of over 40 years, had given her life rather than taking it away. I just couldn’t make sense of it, as I thought of my own parents and the devastation they would feel.
I told her how sorry I was to hear about her husband’s passing, but as Anne went on I started to get a different level of understanding, although I could never begin to understand it from her perspective. For her, it was much deeper as she explained, “I haven’t had a bruise since he died”. She explained what her life had been like for the past 40 years and how she had chosen to stay for her own reasons. She explained how this dreadful existence had ended with her husband’s passing.
Shock turned the empathy
Being horrified, quickly changed to feeling a very deep empathy for her. I realised how quick I was to judge her, based on my reality—my experiences, thoughts and feelings. In reality, I knew nothing about her or her life, until she shared her story. She said that the shame and fear had prevented her from sharing her story earlier.
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” -Brene Brown
Anne explained that she had found a way to exist, but now she felt that she was living for the first time in over 40 years. She felt her life was worth celebrating now. She certainly wasn’t celebrating her husband’s passing or the life she had lived. She just felt that she wasn’t going to put off “living” any longer. She wanted her life to be about something different now, she wanted to write a different story.
Anne had found a way to separate the life she had lived and her experience, without judging it. She was focused on living her life now, as a survivor. For Anne, surviving was the gift that she had fought so hard for, for all those years.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Philo
Is cancer a gift?
For me, cancer was not a gift. So many people die as a result of it every year. So many lives cut short, that isn’t something worth celebrating. Chemotherapy was not a gift, neither was radiation. They were choices I made to give myself the best opportunity to survive. In all honesty, who would volunteer to have toxic chemical injected into them, yet millions of cancer patients courageously do this every year because of their will and desire to survive.
Like Anne, I see my cancer diagnosis and surviving cancer as two very different experiences. I think in some way her vulnerability to share her story, helped me when I was diagnosed. I believe that our survivorship stories connect us, if we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to share them.
Is surviving a gift?
I think so. I have learned everyone has their own survivorship story to connect to. So many times I have had people say “yeah, but my story isn’t as challenging as yours” My answer is always the same “but it’s just as personal, because it’s happening to you!”. I don’t compare my story to anyone else but now I share it to connect with you.
“It is our survivorship stories that connect us all, if we can be vulnerable enough to share them.” – Gai Comans
Like Anne, I fought hard to survive and I did. I feel my life is worth celebrating and I do that everyday. I don’t judge how other people view their experience. In the end, I don’t really know anything about them, about their life or their reality.
In my experience, judgment gives rise to guilt and shame and I don’t feel guilty or shameful for surviving. I feel grateful and I feel that I am finally living. I feel grateful for whatever time I now have and do everything I can to help other survivors feel the same and to help them create a life they love, supporting them to process it, however it feels authentic for them.
A life full of survivor stories
Breast cancer was not the first experience I survived in my life and it certainly hasn’t been the last. I have survived many other experiences since then. I don’t judge them as good experiences or bad experiences, just an experience that I had—and survived to thrive.
In the end I am just sharing my reality, you don’t need to agree or disagree, but thank you for reading it and enabling us to connect in some way. What’s one thing you’ve learned from your survivor experience……..
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