I’m not getting back to normal after surviving cancer twice
I am a few weeks away from finishing my chemotherapy and admit that I am faced with a mixture of emotions. I am delighted, of course, to take this chapter in my breast cancer journey. However, I am also afraid of my future. I have taken this road before. This is my second battle with breast cancer.
Part of me wants to open champagne and ring the golden bell – obnoxiously loud – at the treatment center, while the other part of me knows that I will be dealing with the post-cancer haze for a while. After all, just because you’re no longer a breast cancer fighter and become a survivor doesn’t mean you haven’t faced tremendous trauma that leaves an imprint on your heart, mind, and soul. your soul. Anyone who has had a traumatic experience knows what I’m talking about. There is no return to normal after trauma.
According to the American Psychological Association, trauma is defined as “an emotional response to a terrible event”. They then list possibilities, including “accident, rape or natural disaster”. They notice that immediately after the traumatic event, “shock and denial are typical”. This is followed by subsequent reactions such as “unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea”.
That alone seems difficult enough, but some of us live with post traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD. According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD “is a mental health problem triggered by a terrifying event, whether you experience it or witness it. Symptoms include some of the same symptoms as trauma, but they persist for months or years. If the symptoms “interfere with your daily functioning, you may be suffering from PTSD.”
When you have faced severe trauma, you don’t just “get over it” or “get over” what happened to you. It’s forever a part of your story. However, the expectation is that being cancer free means I’m going to frolic in a proverbial field of sun and rainbows. I should appreciate every moment, because it’s a gift, right?
I am absolutely grateful for this second chance. Well, in my case it’s the third chance. The third time, it’s a charm, isn’t it? I hope. That’s the point. But cancer never really leaves you, even when it’s been eradicated by surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy. Cancer, as I often say, is a beast, a jerk, a liar and a thief. Any trauma is. Whether your trauma is medical like mine, or you’ve witnessed something horrible, been sexually or physically assaulted, been abused, lost a loved one, or any other trauma you know what I mean.
The toxic positivity experienced by those who have experienced trauma may be its own trauma. Listen to me. People have told me that God only gives the toughest battles to the strongest people. So what they say is that God looked from heaven and was like, there is Rachel! It would be perfect for two battles with cancer. She can take it, because she’s so strong. See how ridiculous this is? If you’ve been through trauma, I’m sure someone has told you something so terrible as well. They may have good intentions, but their comments are dismissive, superficial and downright devastating, only adding another obstacle to our already difficult journey.
I’ve been told to stay strong and positive, and frankly, doing both isn’t always a choice. I believe our outlook is often in our control, but when you’re knocked down a thousand times it’s really, really hard to stand up with a genuine smile on your face and a victorious, pumping fist. Instead, you slowly get back up and wait for the next punch.
I have a solid plan in place. I will continue with therapy and plan to start EMDR to see if it will help me overcome the medical trauma I have experienced. Getting your breasts removed and being told your risk of recurrence is about 2% just to get cancer again is nothing short of horrible. I fully plan to face the reality of my situation, continue to build resistance, and navigate between what was and what could be.
Instead of trying to “get back to normal” I plan to create a new normal. Yes, I want all the peace and serenity that I can find, but I know I have to work for it. A person who has been through hell doesn’t just go from constant combat-flight-freezing to Zen. It is a thousand paces from here to there. I’m not going to wake up someday, throw down the quilt and go through life with a carefree mind. I have been conditioned for years to be on guard and on edge.
Life after chemo will undoubtedly involve a mixture of hope and anxiety. I look forward to my hair to fill in and some of the side effects of the drugs to wear off. I also know that I need to prepare for radiation therapy and continuous immunotherapy, which means more doctor’s appointments, labs, tests and treatments. All the while, I have to deal with the roller coaster of emotions that have become my fault.
If you’ve been through trauma or think you have PTSD, there is hope. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, you should discuss your options with your doctor. They suggest physical activity to reduce stress, divide your tasks to be less overwhelmed, spend time with people you trust, anticipate a realistic reduction in symptoms and, of course, therapy to overcome the trauma.
The road to recovery is not easy, but for me it is much better than getting stuck in the trauma zone. No matter how many times and how many times I tried to avoid the stress of “the days”, it always comes back. Therefore, the way forward is to overcome difficulties, honor my progress, and hopefully gain an understanding that will bring more peace.