Cancer Came Knocking

Cropped Smaller Sistah with Peony CrownSeveral months ago, I sat next to my loved one in the doctor’s office hearing news, “It’s cancer.” It’s not the first time cancer took up residence in my family. Somehow this diagnosis burrowed itself deep into my heart in a manner I didn’t expect. I’m still processing. For most of this year, my days were spent at the cancer center. Not as an oncology professional. Rather as a family supporter.

It feels surreal; I’m an oncology social worker helping others deal with how cancer can ravage mind, body, and spirit. So in professional terms, I know how to advocate, anticipate the course of treatment, and manage the day-to-day needs of the family.

Echoes of everything I’ve told other people about coping and thriving bounced around in my head, but I wasn’t as calm and collected as I had expected others to be.

There were days when I felt numb. Hours pass, with the television watching me aimlessly. Other days I felt exhilarated and empowered, “Cancer can kiss our ass!”

I sat down to write new blog posts a gazillion time in the last months. Nothing. No words would come. I just couldn’t handle having both my personal and professional life focused on cancer. So I took some time off.

We’re on the other side of it now. Active treatment is over. And this is the first time I could find words to talk about this ordeal. I needed time to process. Get reoriented. Restore and refresh our family life. Please. Respecting the privacy of my loved one, I’m not going to share details of who or what kind of cancer or treatment or prognosis. But I am going to share my journey; in hopes of helping supporters unearth the tools we need to be WHOLE.

Here’s what I know now.

Cancer has a way of taking over your life. And as supporters, we can feel guilty articulating our hurt/feelings/needs. After all, the patient is the center of focus. But cancer impacts us too; in ways folks don’t talk about much.

Fear and fatigue were nearly constant undercurrents in my being. It’s hard to hide these emotions and wrestle with the stress they bring. So far, these are some things I’ve learned:

Stay active. Bottled up feelings and fears can shut your body down. Often caregivers end up with their health compromised by the 24/7 stresses of cancer treatment and recovery. I’ve rediscovered swimming, and doing Pilates more regularly and taking walks too. The movement is good for the body and a sure-fire way of clearing your head.

Stay in the moment. Looking at our calendar full of doctor’s appointments, treatments and schedule of medications were overwhelming. In between all those dark things, there are still plenty of moments that are light and fun too! Capture the joy in the little things. Storing up small flashes of wonderfulness equals big relief when you need it most.

Stay open. Be real with yourself. When you need self-care time, take it! You being at your best is what will allow you to be fully present with your loved one as they undergo treatment and beyond. Also seek out new skills, activities, and groups that will help you sustain a healthy lifestyle. Explore!

Stay informed. Most people think that after active cancer treatment is done, things will get “back to normal.” Not so! Cancer imprints itself on families in ways that linger for a very long time. Tune into the community-based support resources in your area that will help enhance the quality of life. Also connect online with communities like Thrivorship that offer the latest news about cancer survivorship.

 With you in the struggle.