Just before the world changed overnight in March, I wrote a column titled “The Paradox of Healing.” In it, I contemplated my feelings about returning to “normal life” after cancer (oh, the irony). While it was exciting, it was also scary, as I was forced to let go of my newfound identity as a person with cancer and go back to being, well, simply me.
I wanted to revisit this topic because I’ve been experiencing these feelings again lately. But this time, I’m looking at it through the lens of ego and its relationship to illness, and I’m considering the importance of embracing normality while realizing I will never really be “normal” again. Was I ever really normal, though? Was the world really normal? Alas, I digress.
Anyone who has been through cancer will tell you it’s not a positive experience. That’s obvious. And yet, it’s not as black and white as that. There are benefits, or at least silver linings, to going through this disease.
One positive is feeling heard. When you have cancer, people tend to view you as an inspiration, even though you’re really just out here trying to survive. In many ways, cancer gave me a platform to reflect on the meaning of life and illness in a way that others revered. This felt meaningful in a world in which so many seem to be fighting for attention. It’s sad to think that it’s often trauma that elevates us to a position other people listen to, but there is truth in this.
People are incredibly fortunate to have the chance to heal from cancer. Many of those afflicted by this disease do not heal. Healing, in itself, is a profound blessing.
And yet, while cancer is filled with loss, from our hair to our fertility, healing also involves loss. We experience the loss of the new identity we had constructed while we were sick, and the idea that cancer is who we are.
While going through treatment, I wanted to speak out about my reality, the toxic treatment I endured, and the struggles that accompanied this. But I also fiercely rejected others seeing me as a victim. I didn’t want to be viewed as weak or sick. Sometimes this attitude resembled self-destructiveness, as I refused to rest and powered through chemo, all while assuming my normal life. But for the most part, I succeeded in telling my story with strength and pride.
Yet, this became harder to master in recovery. I found that as I moved further away from illness, I no longer knew how to see myself. I began to question how to speak about my struggle without lapsing into a “woe is me” narrative. For anyone who has been through this disease and recovered, this is a surprisingly complex challenge to navigate.
I speak of this now, because though I’ll likely be dealing with some symptoms forever, I am wholly freed from the perils of this disease.
And yet, quietly, it continues to impact the way I live my life.
Recently I made a series of drastic changes. I moved home after living abroad for four years. I’ve given notice at a job that no longer feels fulfilling so I can start something that offers meaning and purpose. I recognize the importance of using the time I have here to do things that genuinely make me happy. I’ve chosen to be with someone who is also living in their truth and who views life the same way I do. I’ve changed my outer world to reflect the inner changes that occurred as a result of almost dying. So, despite the fact that I’m now healthy and moving forward, cancer still affects my life every day.
I want to be able to acknowledge this while also fully letting go of the sick girl I was. She is gone now. She is, in fact, dead. However strange it may sound to others, there is grief in saying goodbye to her. It is difficult for my ego, the part of me that enjoyed the attention and reveled in my position on the soapbox.
But it’s an important part of learning to let go, just as I had to do with my hair and with the idea of what my life would have looked like if I had never gotten sick in the first place. I also have to let go of victimhood and embrace the new me: the forever-changed woman who survived cancer twice and is free now.
I’m free to start an entirely new story and finally shed my sickness.
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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lymphoma.
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