CANCER HAS ROBBED ME OF SO MUCH
CANCER HAS ROBBED ME OF SO MUCH…
There is no way you could even scratch the surface of explaining the deep changes you feel after going through cancer. It’s challenging enough to try to process it internally, let alone begin to articulate it to those around you.
What I know for sure is cancer changes you for the better, but also for the worse. I can only speak for myself, but this has been, and is my current experience.
WHAT IT TAKES AWAY
Cancer has stripped me of my innocence. I miss the naïve way I used to walk through the world, knowing bad things happened, however not really believing it would happen to me. Even though cancer had been in my existence with my mum and Aunty both dying from it and I had moments of fear based around that, it was always fleeting, it never took full grip. I had experienced great loss and grief around it. Despite this, I still seemed to float along in every sense of the word, and I didn’t know it at the time, but it was true bliss.
Then cancer came and f**ked all my shit up. (I’m feeling a little dramatic tonight). It robs you of things you knew and loved, things you took comfort in, and things you didn’t even realize you valued so dearly. But it’s the kind of thief that leaves you a few hidden gold nuggets to find while your busy assessing the loss.
For me, my career as an event stylist with my own business NOMAD STYLING was booming. I was booking international weddings. I had previously done one in Venice and had 2 upcoming ones locked in for Morocco and Switzerland. I had just started hosting workshops and adored teaching what I had come to know.
I had a lot of interest for international workshops so were busy scheming of ways that I could travel the globe with my business, making plans for the future. I built this, I was so proud of myself and about to start relishing in that.
All of this stopped when I was diagnosed. To me, my health had to become my highest priority. But in making this decision, I was forced to let go of things I had worked so hard to achieve. Things that I was so excited about, opportunities I had created for myself. And that f**king hurt. On top of the sting of the actual diagnosis, and all of the other losses that come with this new territory. It’s these unexpected things that catch you off guard and that no one else feels with you. No one sees these ones coming.
I could write a novel on this topic, but I’m going to put a list of a few things here titled:
WHAT CANCER STOLE FROM ME
- My carefree attitude
- My innocence towards life. It has been replaced with stress. I know too much about this topic now that I feel more stressed when I’m stressed because I know how bad it is for my body. It’s a losing cycle.
- Part of the innocence of my children, the effects this has had on them will surface as they grow and I hate that I have to accept the trauma this has likely given them that will be a part of their story and life experience.
- Our choice about having a third child (it was unlikely anyway but no-one likes having the choice taken away)
- My plans for Nomad Styling and the flow I had with my business. I lost exciting jobs, opportunities and experiences and now see my business through an entirely different lens. I’ll never see it the same way again.
- The fun me that I loved. A new me has emerged but she’s changed, she’s much more complex and deep. Whilst she can still have fun and relish in the small moments, she’s less carefree. She lives with more fear and I hate that. But in the same breath I love her intricacies, all of these, you will see are bitter sweet.
- My ability to show up in lighthearted conversations. Currently it’s a struggle hearing those around me complain about seemingly small insignificant things. I find it hard to be present and fully be there for them in those moments like I want to be. I try.
- My ability to eat pizza and drink wine for example without guilt. Prior to getting sick the most I thought about was putting on weight. I miss the naivety. There are pros to living healthier, which I am immensely grateful for, but after lots of research I know too much now. That when I don’t do all of ‘the things’ I feel guilty as my cancer may return. If there are any rogue traces floating around in my body and I create an environment for it to thrive…I know what happens. My logical mind says follow an 80/20 rule, but the 20% still feels guilty. I hate that.
- My right to choose NOT to exercise without guilt. Sure I knew I should do it, but again it’s about choice. Now I know too much, to get my chance of re-occurrence right down (like reduced by 50%) I need to be exercising around 6 hours per week. I don’t want to feel like my health is at stake if I don’t feel like it.
- The existing dynamic in my relationship-, which I get to at length below.
These things (and trust me there are more) feel like losses, because they are. Like any loss, you need to grieve it. I know this all too well since my mum died. Grieving the things I have lost since cancer doesn’t make a lot of sense to most people, ‘your alive, you should be happy and celebrating right’? Mmmm it’s not that black and white when you’re in it.
THERE ARE POSITIVES TOO
I really want to re-iterate that there are SO MANY positives that have come out of this that I feel truly blessed to have been given the opportunity to see and experience. However this blog post is about me releasing all of this negativity out of my body, to be seen and heard by people who understand and to educate those who don't. In hope that it also brings you comfort and know that you are not alone in your grief. I see you all, I see your struggles and I feel them with you. So many of you struggle with additional things beyond mine such as:
- Never being able to have children (I was blessed to have already had 2)
- Not being able to breastfeed
- Having to remove your breasts (or other body parts/organs), not feeling like you have a choice. The implications that follow from these huge fast decisions. The invisible ones that don’t get seen or asked about.
- The complete loss of sensation when your child may be lying on your chest.
Gosh there truly are so many. I've only mentioned a few that are affiliated with breast cancer. I can only imagine how long this list could be for others.
THE GRIEF PROCESS
Grieving the life you had pre-cancer is a process. It sounds dramatic. You’re still alive and at this stage potentially cancer free if you were lucky enough to get through the treatment with great results.
Yet you find yourself, lost, hyper emotional, living in fear or reoccurrence. Feeling alone, isolated with an entirely new perspective on life. You just want to get out there and live it, but there is so much in the way of that you need to filter through first. It’s far from the easy road that most people expect it to be.
At this stage if you have just finished treatment and gone out into the wild, chances are you haven’t processed it yet. I thought I had, but then it hit me like a tonne of bricks unexpectedly. You see, like any trauma, you need to ride it out and reach the other side of it before you can step back and see the situation for what it was.
Then it’s time to reflect. As a new friend in this realm wrote “It’s hard to be in the middle of a process and grieve at the same time. It’s too fresh or too urgent, our nervous systems tell us it’s not safe to go there, first we have to survive, then we get to feel’. This resonated with me so much and I love her way with words.
So when you are ‘cancer free’ (the words I longed to hear but am petrified to say out loud), the world seems to think everything is back to ‘normal’ now, whatever the f**k that even means. Friends don’t check in as much, though most of them probably fizzled along the way purely from a place of lack of understanding.
Yet here you are, broken, feeling like the shell of the person you once were. With all of these new layers to you that you are trying to make sense of. Alone in the same world but with an entirely new outlook trying to navigate your way. I don’t know about you but I felt completely lost. It was confusing and so incredibly challenging.
Sure, you have learned a lot of lessons along the way and if you’re like me, you are incredibly grateful for them. INCREDIBLY GRATEFUL. But this is when the reality hit me, and hit me hard. It was like a blow to my entire being. I needed to deal with this before I could sit in the gratitude and really allow it to penetrate.
MY NEEDS CHANGED
For me, both during cancer treatment and beyond, my needs as a woman changed in a profound way. In turn this changed the dynamics of my relationship with my husband hugely, which caused even more stress in an already stressful time. You see, for me, I’ve always been a doer. If I say I’m going to do something, I’ll make it happen. If I can see something in my mind, it will become a reality because I wont give up until I have made it a reality.
I’ve never been one to rely on others; I take charge and do most things myself. This was both consciously taught to me as a child and learned through modeling as I grew up. For this reason I’ve always been a control freak, I struggle delegating and still have a lot of work to do in this area of myself. I’m open and learning daily.
But for the first time since being a child, I found myself wanting and needing to be cared for and nurtured like a baby. For me, this connected deeply with the loss of my own mother. I find that my body wants to go into fetal position frequently. I want to hug and comfort myself. I don’t just want nurturing, I truly need it. I was drawn to women strongly at this point in time due to the natural nurturing a woman provides and found myself more disconnected from Luke than ever.
I missed my mother dearly and nothing could give me that same level of unconditional love and comfort that I desperately longed for.
So it actually pushed my husband further away, our dynamic changed (thank god my psychologist helped articulate this to me so eloquently). He’d never had to care for me before because I’d ALWAYS been the caregiver. I’d always looked after myself and those around me. He had his role in our relationship but that was never it. Luke and I were both very independent and weren’t the kind of couple who ‘needed’ each other, we knew we would be fine if we were alone. We used to discuss that and it’s something that we enjoyed about our relationship.
After years of that being our ‘couple narrative’ here I was, needing and wanting to be cared for, expecting him to instantly be there how I needed because it was now my highest priority. Yet we readily realised, he didn’t know how. Well I should clarify, not in a way that reached me. It’s not something that comes naturally to him through no fault of his own; it comes from his own experience.
I never knew this until right now, which felt so confusing to me. I felt like I knew him better than anyone, yet I’d never known this.
But that made me look at our relationship in an entirely different light and wonder what else I didn’t know about him. Or what was going to surface in the future. I was looking at our relationship through new eyes and Luke was getting dragged along for the ride.
FINDING A MEETING PLACE
I was lost, I’d finally learned I need to rely on others (and that was a huge lesson for me to learn), and yet here I was feeling all-alone and questioning my relationship of 15 years. Nothing had changed, except cancer had so greatly changed ME and in turn my perspective and priorities in life. I wasn’t willing to budge on getting those needs met because I knew new how short life really is. My happiness is now paramount and I refuse to live a complacent and mediocre life. So I started setting boundaries.
I felt like an entirely different person with entirely different needs yet my expectations in my relationship had completely altered. My husband was trying to deal with his own shit that cancer surfaced in him, plus meet the evolving needs of his ‘seemingly new partner’.
I was far from the woman he married. It was, and is still hard on him trying to understand me and what I need from him despite the many dialogues we have around it. Cancer seems to have robbed us of lighthearted conversation, everything is so important and deep most of the time. I miss talking shit, laughing and just living a simpler life with him.
It feels unfair on him in so many ways, I can be mid argument with him and feel that surface in me. “It’s not his fault your needs have changed”, but I also need to remind myself, it’s not my fault either! This happened to us, we could fight it, or work with it. The choice is ours. But either way, it’s f**king challenging. It requires a lot of time and energy. That’s new for us, to really prioritize that when our dynamic foundation has been built off fierce independence.
THE ONGOING STRUGGLE OF NOT BEING UNDERSTOOD
I’ve felt misunderstood in my life before; I think it’s something we have all experienced at one time or another.
But not being understood by those closest to you, when the longing for it is so great, for me is constantly a challenge. I so desperately long for Luke to understand my shift in perspective, to have learned the same lessons as me so we can reach our meeting place much faster and become closer as a couple for it.
Instead (again through no fault of his own), I can feel his thoughts “but you’re bringing that fear on yourself”, “You don’t need to live your life this way, it’s all in your mind”. I get it. Truly I do. I’ve read all of those kinds of books to understand how it works, mind over matter, epigenetics, Bruce Lipton & Joe Dispenza, the Dalai Lama. Yet, until you are in this place, even with that knowledge and understanding behind you, there is no way you could feel what it’s like.
I know the way I can move beyond this is to live my life fully in the present moment. When I do, it’s bliss. I’m not in my head, my feelings aren’t overrunning my system, I'm not in fear. But I’m not a monk; I’m not committing my entire existence to this notion. Whilst it’s something I strive more and more for and will create a larger space for as my life goes on, it’s not realistic to expect myself to remain in this state constantly. When I'm out of this state, that's when it gets hard.
It’s incredibly frustrating to have these conversations. I naturally want to open up to him, yet when I do I feel the tone change, his energy shift subconsciously (as mine does with things too) and I want to stop talking. Which is odd for me, I love conversation and being heard. But I find myself wanting to give up on even trying to share this with him. When I pull back, obviously the distance between us emotionally grows, well in my mind it does and then that becomes my experience.
Yet strangely, in moments of isolation there can be SUCH a comfort in sitting on the couch messaging a stranger on the other side of the globe that 'get’s it' entirely.
What I need to remember is it’s unfair of me to hope to get all of my needs met from one person, especially evolving needs that go against what we have known and been for so long. I need to find a balance in getting some of my emotional needs met elsewhere. Whether it’s through the social media strangers, or dear friends who will just listen, hold space for me and allow me to feel. Who greet me with “I’m here” and I know they are.
But one of my biggest lessons, that literally came from my latest psychology session only last week is I truly need to nurture myself. You see, I thought I had been doing this, I thought I knew what self-love was. But there is a part of me internally that has blocked that from happening on the level it needs to. So I started looking externally for it.
Whilst I know I need to allow others to support me, and there is a lot for me to learn in that space too, the real lesson for me is to hold myself like a child, to give myself space and time. To allow myself to feel, to not always ‘get it done’. That part of me needs a break, she has served me well and no doubt will continue to over the years, I’m grateful for her. But she’s tired, overworked, needs to clock off. The nurturer needs to run the show for a while, and then after that, the two can work together in harmony. (I love my psychologist so f**king much)
Thanks for reading this far! To be honest, I’ve lost track of why I was sharing this story. It started out by wanting to help you all and to be educational in a sense, but it has evolved into much more. For me, it’s been cathartic and necessary. If you have read along this far thank you, if this has resonated, please follow me at @support.your.girls and let me know.
You are not alone, I feel you. I see you.