One day I was reading my friend's website, and my jaw hit the floor when I read a post about grief. It was the first time I'd ever seen a "grief chart." I had no idea there even was such a thing, and I could easily identify myself at every single step of this big curve as a cancer survivor. I had been writing and sharing in my cancer journey for a few years at this point, and it had never occurred to me even once that this entire process and all that I was going through, was all really one massive grief curve.
On at least two occasions when I've mentioned my cancer story to new friends or acquaintances that hadn't known, I've received comments that were just short of dismissive that testicular cancer is an "easy cancer", alluding to the high cure rate. I'll be honest in saying that I haven't been offended by such comments, because I know that short of having been there in some way themselves, it's simply impossible for people to truly know what a cancer diagnosis feels like, nor all that one entails.
There's a type of pain that's not often talked about by cancer survivors, and that's the pain we experience when the nature of our relationships with people in our lives change, as either a direct or indirect result of our cancer experience. This is the story of my deep interpersonal and spiritual struggles after cancer, of trying to make sense of the world again, of trying to get to the bottom of who I really was and what I needed in this world, and all of the bumps and roadblocks along the way.
On Saturday, February 14th, 2015, Valentine's Day of all the days, I'll mark four years as a cancer survivor. I've learned much about how to truly "survive" cancer in these past few years, and I think just a little about life too, and wanted to mark this occasion by passing along my top four lessons learned in four years of cancer survivorship.
After our fights with cancer are over, we all want so badly to believe that everything is behind us and that life is going to get back to normal. Those first weeks and months after our cancer fights are such a precious time. It’s our first taste of freedom after having been wrongfully held hostage by cancer for so long. I had my life back, but as time and the months went on I realized that it wasn’t my old life that I had back, but rather an entirely new one. Cancer survivorship brings with it an entirely new set of life circumstances and a whole lot of firsts, many of which I was completely unprepared to handle or to deal with at all.
If there's one thing I've learned over the years as a cancer survivor, and just one thing I could say or one piece of advice I could give to cancer survivors everywhere who might be struggling in these challenging new lives as I had been, it's that the best way to survive cancer is to live the best possible life that you can.
At the start of 2014, after suffering from a year of such terrible anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress, I finally had my life figured out again after cancer. I was in the midst of this moment of clarity where I had an intimate understanding of all that had gone wrong in my cancer survivorship and why, and all that had gone right as well. I couldn't afford to let this moment of clarity go to waste, because never again in my life did I want to suffer as I had throughout so much of 2013, hurting as I had been, yet not knowing what to do. After four months of writing, I finally released this essay into the world, and was happy to see it spread far and wide. If you only ever read one thing from me, let this be it.