I was in denial for a really long time. I refused to accept my reality. I refused to accept that I was a cancer patient. I questioned everything. Confronting my own death changed how I viewed myself. Suddenly I was vulnerable and uncertain about my future. My time was now filled up with doctor’s appointments and managing the side effects of treatment. I was no longer a teacher, but a student trying to soak up every bit of information I could to make me feel more in control.
I had so many feelings that were difficult to navigate at first. My body had gone through so many changes in such a short amount of time, (hair loss, losing my breasts, losing my ovaries and lymphedema) that it traumatized me. I didn’t recognize who I was when I looked in the mirror. This made me sad and angry. I felt like I didn’t have a say over what happened to me and that I had no control over what was being done to my body. It was the ultimate violation.
But cancer wasn’t the only thing wearing me down. I too was wreaking havoc on myself. My days were filled with “shoulds”. “We should be on our honeymoon right now.” We should be starting a family right now”. “I should be cancer free right now”. I was looking at what everyone else had and torturing myself for not having it. Self blame and shame made a home in my head like an unwelcome house guest. There were so many changes happening physically, mentally and emotionally that I struggled to find a fulcrum on which to rest.
So I did what I do best, research. I tried to learn everything I could about cancer, and how to live a fulfilling life, not in spite of it, but because of it. I read about mindfulness and how the body and the mind should work together in achieving wellness. I read how every thought affects every cell in the body and the many variants of this idea. I thought there must be something to it if so many scientists, doctors and clinicians were on board with this theory and I was determined to ease my suffering in any way I could. The first step was to accept the unacceptable, which seemed like a daunting task. If I were to ever move on with my life, I had to accept the fact that I was a woman living with stage IV cancer.
Denial was a coping mechanism for me that clearly wasn’t working. I had to accept what was REAL, even if I didn’t like it. I had to accept the fact that some things are out of my control. Control is an illusion, yet real at the same time. Having a sense of control is like walking a tightrope. To keep balanced you are constantly adjusting your position, changing your pace and speed, and most importantly, never looking back. For me, I had to stop looking back. What was done was done. I stopped thinking about what I lost, and focused on what I have. I gave myself permission to feel all my emotions, good and bad. I gave my body and mind time and space to heal. I expressed gratitude for the people who supported me and helped me get to where I am now. I focus on the things I can control and pay no attention to the things I can’t. It is definitely a process, but the closer I am towards acceptance, the closer I am towards a newer, better, and healed version of me.