A few months into treatment, I wrote a letter to myself of all the things I wish I had known when I was first diagnosed. It was, and still is, a reminder to practice self compassion during my healing journey.
You will feel a complex and confusing range of emotions (sometimes all in the span of a few minutes!) -- shock, anger, frustration, loneliness, grief, happiness, joy, relief, guilt, confusion, fatigue, fear, sorrow, strength, triumph. Processing and understanding these emotions will be a continual challenge, but journaling, talking to a therapist, talking to friends, and deep calming breaths can and do help.
You don’t have to feel like a #cancerwarrior (#fuckcancer, etc)
- As a cancer patient, looking at social media can be helpful for feeling less alone, but also another comparison game (I can’t even fight cancer the right way…)
- As best you can, stay off social media. This isn’t the time in your life for the perfected images on Instagram.
95% of the time people will be amazing and supportive and show off the best of humanity (that other 5% of the time, try to be gracious and don't dwell on it).
You can feel immensely grateful for your life and the beauty & joy in the world (something that comes to the forefront when facing your own mortality), but you don’t have to feel this way all the time.
There will be high highs and low lows. I assumed the journey would be all negative, but there were moments of real joy & triumph throughout -- the relief of making it through the mastectomy and walking to a coffee shop with friends for the first time, snowshoeing with my family after my second chemo treatment, connecting with friends who visited to help support, dancing in the living room with my husband to Taylor Swift’s “Out of the Woods” to celebrate getting through my final chemo, etc.
As much as possible, try to keep doing fun things through treatment. Surprising as it may be, the things you liked before cancer you will still like! There will be a period of processing the shock of the diagnosis and this is normal. And while some of my favorite things were difficult or impossible during treatment, many were still possible - my husband and I watched a ton of movies both at home and in theaters, continued to do date nights (again, when feasible), I read so many books from the library, called out of town friends on the phone, and met up with local friends for tea.
Lastly and most importantly, give yourself permission! Repeat after me:
- It’s okay to accept help. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to specify what would be helpful.
- It’s okay to say no to things (you now have the all powerful, no limitations “cancer card”).
- It’s okay to not be the A+ wife, friend, daughter, worker bee, athlete, or roommate that you used to try to be.
- It’s okay to acknowledge that there are others with later stage cancers or diseases of any kind but still feel sad and angry and confused about your own situation. You don’t need to feel guilty about your own feelings, you have permission to FEEL ALL OF THEM.
- It’s okay to want lots of people to reach out and support you and then not know how to respond when they do. Be as gracious as you can and thank them when you have the energy. Know that you will give it all back later in life to support others going through hardships of any kind. You will come out of this stronger and a different person than you were before and with so much empathy for others’ struggles. There is a profound beauty in that growth and it’s a good thing to hold on to in the midst of the storm that is your life right now. You are now connected to humanity in a new and meaningful way.