Cancer and the Journey After Surviving

  1. Jennifer says:

    I survived meningitis six years ago this summer. My daughter reminds me that I’m actually six years old, because my body and brain did a reset in 2011. To be honest probably the hardest thing for me has been how our family and friends act as if I should be all better now, and want never to have to acknowledge any difference or talk about what happened. It’s like they think my illness and our descent into poverty was cute for a few months, but they are now over it. It’s hard to watch my children have nobody other than each other who cares what they went through watching me deal with all this.

    Anyway, God bless you and your family, and every family who has to face chronic illness. May our suffering sanctify us.

  2. Emily says:

    Nancy, Mourning what cancer took from us is a very real thing. It’s ok and it’s something you, your family and your brother will need to do.
    I discovered a lump in my throat in May 2004 and didn’t seek any Dr appts until that November. The week after Christmas we got the biopsy results: thyroid cancer. I was an eager little 26 yr old with plans to go to the presidential inauguration in Jan 2005, I didn’t have time for Cancer! I went to DC knowing what that lump was, showing it to my friends. Feb 2005 surgery, March 2005 radiation. No Chemo, thank the Lord. But now, forever dependent on supplemental thyroid hormone and constant blood tests to make sure it’s the right level. Also a vibrantly bright red scar on my throat that took exceedingly long and a few shots of cortizone to fade due to keloid scarring. A full body scan the following year that required me going off my synthroid and getting extremely hypothyroid (lethargic). As my metabolism slowed to a super crawl it was a constant reminder as to how dependent I was on medication to live. The scan was all clear. I tried to live like normal. Moved to another town, met a great young man. Long about spring of 2008 I realized something was really wrong. Every time I had to get a blood test it meant opening the door in my head behind which I had placed EVERYTHING that had to do with my surgery. When I first shut that door it was just a little storm, but when I opened it back up there was a hurricane inside! All that stuff that I didn’t want to deal with was festering. I was an emotional mess. I finally went to our parish priest for confession and blurted out something about it. His words were, “Grief is a quantity, you have to get it all out.”

    You can’t refuse to mourn something that you have validly lost. I lost an organ. I lost the notion that I was basically a healthy person. I lost the life I could have lived without being dependent on a DAILY FREAKING REMINDER of what had happened. Once I faced up to that and allowed myself to truly, physically and mentally grieve, things got better. Your brother and I are never going to be people who didn’t have cancer. We have to relive many aspects of that period of our life with every Dr. visit, every blood test, each glance at our scar in the mirror, and yes, with each bit of medicine that we take now as a result of our life saving surgeries and treatments. We are living. It is a different life.

    The best book I found at the time, and the one I recommend to both cancer patients and their loved ones is “There’s No Place Like Hope” by Vickie Girard. She perfectly captures the thoughts and feelings of the patient in a way that the caregiver (or sisters) can better understand what the patient might not be able to articulate. Another book I absolutely love is “Never Give Up; My Life and God’s Mercy” by John Janaro. He’s a Catholic theologian and the book is about dealing with invisible illnesses (depression, anxiety, and other physical ailments) but it’s more about how we suffer. Janaro is steeped in St. Pope JPII’s philosophy of uniting our suffering with Christ and giving purpose to our suffering.

    It’s ok to cry, Nancy. It’s ok to mourn the brother you lost. It doesn’t mean you love him any less. It doesn’t mean God loves you any less for being unappreciative of what you have. Grief is a quantity, if you don’t get it all out it will fester. Open the door, let the storm out, you’ll have peace when it’s gone.

    • Emily–I am so touched and honored that you took the time to share all of this here. How amazing that you also went through cancer at such a young age and you so clearly know what it is like to loose part of yourself to cancer.

      I will be sure to tell my brother all of these things, especially those book recommendations. In fact, I just ordered that book by Janaro on Amazon for myself because, seriously, who isn’t suffering from some sort of invisible illness!

      Thank you for understanding and being so open. I am quite touched.

      • Emily says:

        You will LOVE Janaro’s book. I read it right after I took an Endow series studying JPII’s encyclical “on the meaning of suffering.” It was amazing. Without actually mentioning JPII’s encyclical, Janaro still conveyed the meaning of it. We read the Janaro book in a Catholic book club and we were able to skype with John Janaro at our meeting!!! So I asked him why he didn’t mention the encyclical. He said he was just so steeped in JPII he didn’t think of it. It’s really great. When you are soaked up in theology, it pours out.

        I think of this book so often for YOU, Nancy. I see so much of myself in your experiences. Particularly the having kids close together kind of stress and anxiety that happens. Everyone’s experience is different, so I’m not going to try to solve your problems for you. But John’s book and the Endow series came at an amazing time for me. I had such a dark and horrible time of anxiety after my third was born (in less than 3 years). Prozac and therapy healed me. John’s book is WONDERFUL validation of how we are BOTH body and soul and that quite often we need BOTH prayer AND medicine to heal ourselves. Some people can pray themselves out of mental illness and I applaud them for it. But it’s not a failure if you can’t.

        Love you, girl! Between your Catholocism, kids and cross-stitch, (I don’t mean to sound creepy) but I think we’d be great friends if met.

        • You don’t sound creepy! I really do think we would get along famously if we met too! I am hoping that the book arrives before we head out on vacation so I can soak it up. And that is amazing that you got to skype with the author. so cool!

          Amen about some just not being able to pray out of a mental illness. I take Prozac every day and I am just so grateful for it (as is my husband)!. I am nothing without prayer, but I need my little pill too.

          I’ll keep you posted on the book–I’m sure I’ll end up writing about it ;)!

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