What Kind of Gifts are You Giving This Year?

After cancer treatment is over, you can decide what kind of Cancer Survivor you wish to be.   At this point, I believe a conscious decision is made.   For years, it has been a hobby of mine to talk with strangers.  Now I talk with Cancer Survivors because that is who hangs around the three cancer centers I frequent!   I’ve noticed one thing from my talks with hundreds of Cancer Survivors:   Cancer Survivors usually fit into one of the following three categories, at least  in my mind.   As Cancer Survivors, we all move in and out of these categories, but we tend to frequent one more than the others.

1)    Normal Nancy or Not Me Norm  – These Survivors briefly admit they had cancer, say it doesn’t define them, try to forget everything that happened during treatment.   If I ask them a question, often I get this answer:  “I don’t remember.”   Usually they  fill their lives with so much BUSY trying to fit it all in because death may come quicker than you think. Often, they do not want others to know they ever  had cancer.  It is not unusual for them to have moved to a  different city or get a new job where no one thinks of them as Cancer Guy or Cancer Girl.  They try to fly under the cancer radar.

2)  Inspirational Inez or Transformation Ted – You sit down next to this person and you are immediately transported to a higher level of thinking.  You are amazed at the depths of their soul, the transformative nature of their conversation, and go away amazed and inspired by their story.   They have accepted their plight and inspire everyone they encounter.  Their story is not all about them.  They have an uncanny ability to help you see good.  Often these are the people who were given 3 months to live and have now survived 20 years.  It feels providential that you encountered them as they give you just the pep talk you need when you need it.  Sometimes it feels as if you have met an angel, and you wonder if you have because once you encounter them, you do not forget them.

3)  Cold Cathy and Frigid Fred – These conversations are usually very draining if you are even able to have a conversation with this person.  These people are often very distant, don’t want to talk about  you, and if you get them to talk it is always, “Why did this happen to me?”, “I’ve been a good person”  “I’ve done the right things”,  and “I know I am Going to Die Soon so I might as well quit living.

Certainly, I know I have been all of these people.  But at first glance, I would certainly prefer to be Inspirational Inez.   Because of  my encounters, I am very careful what I say to cancer patients going through active treatment.  I remember the words of other Cancer Survivors who helped me through – courage, strength, determination, adapt, adjust, keep going, never give up, you can and will do it, and there is life after cancer.   Never have I forgotten the words or the people who spoke those words to me.  Survivors who had been there but were willing to reach out to give the great gifts of encouragement and hope.

This applies to everyone we meet, not just cancer patients, doesn’t it?  And often we take for granted those we live with, care for, and family and friends.  This Christmas and New Year, please consider giving the greatest gifts to others – encouragement and hope.  You can never go wrong with that gift!

Speaking of gifts —  be sure to check out my online store at  www.hellocourage.com



Feeling Angry after Surviving Breast Cancer . . .

This week I was told by my Cardiologist that my heart has not improved in a year from the damage done from chemo and Herceptin and most likely it won’t.  Then I was told that the reason I am coughing so hard, so much, and so long after an upper respiratory infection is that my lung lost its elasticity during radiation, and it takes a lot more energy to clear the lung.   I felt angry.

According to Dr. Phil McGraw,  “Anger is nothing more than a cover for hurt, frustration or fear or all three.”  Well, that made sense to me as to why I felt angry.   As far as my heart was concerned I felt hurt, was frustrated, and definitely fearful about the future.  I was so uninformed before breast cancer, I had absolutely no idea what it would mean to live as a survivor.  My images were of physically fit, smiling women running Marathons dressed in pink garb with glowing skin, white teeth, perky new breasts and thick long hair pulled back in a ponytail tied with a pink ribbon.  It looked so easy and almost inviting.

I am definitely not alone when I feel angry.  I’ve received countless emails recently from women who feel angry during and after treatment.  They are confused, hurt and feel guilty that they have these feelings.   Almost everyone says this in one form or another:  “I am so grateful to be alive, but yet I feel angry.” Here are some of their statements.    Perhaps you can relate to a few or many of them.

  • I feel really angry that I am the one who got the breast cancer
  • I have pity parties for myself and for what I have lost.  Sometimes my pity parties last for days.
  • I get angry at women who go around flaunting their cleavage especially in front of my husband
  • I miss my old pre-cancer life and feel angry about the loss
  • I cry over what I lost
  • I feel guilty that I lived and my friend (or family member) died of breast cancer
  • I hate how breast cancer left me with all the side effects that remain like Lymphedema, neuropathy, numbness in my breast, no low cut tops, cannot shave under my arms, heart damage, radiation damage, mouth sores, acid reflux, thinner hair and severe pain.
  • I get envious of people who live in a non-cancer world
  • I get angry that I had to quit my job
  • I get angry that I was fired during breast cancer treatments
  • I hate that a pain in my leg or a headache evokes panic of mets and that makes me angry.
  • I feel burdened by the weight of Survivorship like I should always be happy because I survived
  • I get angry at people who say ignorant things to me when they know nothing about breast cancer
  • I feel angry at the family and friends who abandoned me during treatment
  • I get tired of being an inspiration
  • I am angry that I have no sexual desire and feel bad for my husband
  • I get angry that the pink ribbons and pink parades left others thinking that because we lived and because our hair is back, we are fine.
  • I hate that I  never get done going to medical appointments.
  • I  really hate and feel mad that people think because I survived somehow I had the “good cancer”
  • I am angry that chemo stole my mind  and I cannot think clearly like before breast cancer.
  • I  hate feeling frequently detached from the rest of the world.
  • I am angry and tired of people having a quick fix for me when I am in panic mode about recurrence
  • I really hate it and get angry when people who still have estrogen and normal muscle mass (because I lost mine to estrogen-blockers, ovary removal and “chemopause”) say “I can show you how to exercise and lose weight.
  • I get angry when other people complain about really minor things because I had to face mortality head on
  • I feel very guilty for all of these feelings like it is wrong to even have them or admit them

Admitting that we have angry feelings is a huge step.  Of course, we celebrate that we survived.  But the reality is that survival is often at a cost.    So many women have so much to deal with physicially and emotionally after survival.  Some days you feel like jumping around and celebrating survival with pink pom poms.  Other days you feel like taking those pink pom poms and (fill in the blank…..).

When I was researching for this post, I found a very interesting article in Maclean’s, a Canadian Magazine about anger and breast cancer survivors:  http://www2.macleans.ca/2008/11/20/the-angry-breast-cancer-survivors/   Perhaps you will find it interesting as well.