It’s been exactly two years since I finished chemo. Two and a half years since my diagnosis. And in that time my hair has grown, I’ve graduated from university, traveled alone, moved overseas, gotten my first real job, and fallen in love.
Life has carried on.
But the scars remain. Truth is, it takes a long time to recover from something as traumatic as cancer. And even though I can feel myself growing and healing every day, there are still these frequent moments when I feel the freshness of the wound. It’s an ongoing journey.
Although going through cancer has undeniably shaped me into a stronger and more resilient person, I find myself often feeling consumed by a state of fear and anxiety — a feeling that can be triggered by the smallest of things. Airplane turbulence, driving in a fast car on a mountainside, living in a country with frequent earthquakes, all of these experiences can grip me with panic. It’s as if the realization that it can and did all fall apart in a moment, leaves me feeling terrified it might happen again. That sickness could come knocking anytime. That accidents happen, and diseases are diagnosed and sometimes the people we love leave us.
That is why we have to talk about it. We have to use words as a conduit, a means to express, grapple, and come to terms with what we went through. We have to tell our story. Not to make it into our identity or to “play the victim,” but to let it go. To heal. That was my motivation for writing this column. Because I wanted to share my story and speak my truth, pull up the obscured roots of the past and lay them out in the sun to dry.
But sometimes it can be really difficult. And not necessarily for the reasons one might think, which is that rehashing the past is too painful. Truthfully, the most difficult part is actually other people’s reactions. It’s this feeling that they do not want to hear about what I went through. Why? Because it induces within them a feeling of discomfort, an integral fear that they too could possibly get sick. As if they could be infected just by hearing that someone young, seemingly healthy and similar to them could experience such a thing. And so the word cancer enters the conversation and immediately it is brushed away, exchanged for something “lighter,” more “palatable” because just the utterance of the c-word is too heavy, too morbid, too macabre.
But I want to talk about it. I want to divulge my experiences, dump my feelings out onto the table for everyone to see. I want to describe how it felt to have my entire life upended at the age of 22, how it felt to see and feel my body weakened and ravaged by this disease. I want to talk about how before my cancer I was living a carefree, self-indulgent existence, preoccupied with the most menial of things; and then how radically altered I was, how in many ways I feel cancer robbed me of a few more years of innocence. Yet, I’m also supremely grateful to have had this awakening while so young.
There are so many things to be said and so much I long to express, and that is why I use writing as my medium. Because I can’t afford a therapist and because writing is my therapy. But whatever your outlet may be, whatever your form of self-expression, you have to speak your truth. Whether it’s talking to someone, starting a blog, or writing poetry. Whether it’s volunteer work, singing your heart out in the car or shower, scrawling doodles, painting, reading, learning a foreign language, or teaching. Whether you express it through the way you dress, or the manner you fashion your hair. Whether it’s through public speaking or playing sports, dancing all night, or swimming laps every day. There are a million ways to let it out, to speak your truth. The vice or the medium doesn’t matter. What matters is that you don’t keep it bottled inside.
You can’t be afraid of what people think, or if their eyes glaze over when you tell your story, because the truth is that many people aren’t capable of understanding. Not everyone can empathize with that level of struggle. And that’s OK. Wait for the ones who do. Because I promise you they are out there. And in the meantime, create art. Be bold, be courageous, be loud. Express your truth. Do it however you can and in whatever way you like — but just do it.
I promise you that speaking your truth is cathartic. It’s healing. Your story is worthy of being heard.
Note: Lymphoma News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lymphoma News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lymphoma.