Being a cancer survivor is hard

Let me start by saying I feel a little bit guilty about the title of this post. I realize there are so many people out there fighting hard for their lives and they would do anything to be cancer free. I also understand my cancer diagnosis could’ve turned out much worse and I don’t take that for granted. At the same time, it’s sometimes hard to be thankful for a title I never wanted in the first place. Who actually wants to be a cancer survivor? Only people who were unlucky enough to be diagnosed in the first place, I guess. I went through this terrible experience that forced me to think about death at 25 years old and now that it’s over, I find myself still searching for those “sunny skies ahead.”

It’s been tough for me to go back to “normal” life, especially since I don’t even know what that means anymore. People constantly tell me how happy I must be and, at times, it feels other people have set this impossible standard for me to live up to. That’s why, even on my bad days, I’d force a smile and agree cheerfully that life is great. It felt wrong for me to have a bad day because how could I possibly be sad now that I’m cancer free? I didn’t think anyone would ever understand because I didn’t understand it myself. I made it my goal to get through everyday with a smile, but the second I’d walk into my apartment after work, all the emotions I had suppressed all day would come flooding out. Many times I wouldn’t even make it to my apartment before tears would be rushing down my face. This entire year has been such an unexpected emotional roller coaster. I’m sure these emotions were partly due to the effects that cancer had on just about every aspect of my life- mentally, physically, emotionally, financially… and partly due to the fact that I don’t think I ever fully processed what I went through.

How exactly is someone supposed to process a huge, life-altering event like fighting cancer? It’s still hard for me to believe that any of it even happened. I continually push it to the back of my mind and even forget about it sometimes. That is, until the neuropathy starts to bother me, or I see any one of my scars glaring back at me in the mirror, or a past-due medical bill shows up in the mail. Then it magically feels all too real again.

The one thing I found motivation in was helping others. It sounds cheesy and probably made up, but honestly, it’s what has gotten me through these past 6 months. I made it my mission to turn this awful thing that happened to me into something positive. It all started with my Warrior Bag project where I’d send out tote bags full of goodies to other cancer patients. I put my heart and soul into those bags and it took every bit of my energy… and I loved every second of it. I also helped my young friend, David, raise about $5,000 for pediatric cancer research in memory of his friend, Hunter. I even offered to shave my newly growing hair if we met our goal of $10k. That’s how badly I wanted to help. Directly after that, I got involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and raised over $25,000 in 10 weeks. When I say I worked tirelessly on this fundraising campaign, I absolutely mean it. I spent every minute of free time I had planning events and soliciting donations. My days off were not at all “days off.”

I don’t bring any of this up to brag about what I’ve done or to get recognition. That was never my intention. Instead, it’s quite the opposite. I’m finally throwing in the towel and admitting defeat. Even though I’m so proud of each of my fundraising/charity ventures, I can’t continue helping others until I take care of myself. It’s like when you get on an airplane and the flight attendants remind you that if the pressure drops, you must secure your own oxygen mask before you help others. Well, my oxygen mask is still hanging from the ceiling and the more masks I secure on those around me, the more I find myself gasping for air.

This past week has been my very first week all year without any kind of fundraising or charity event to work on and I’ve spent most of it sick in bed. I started feeling sick just two days after my last fundraiser ended. I know it’s my body’s way of telling me I need to take a step back and reevaluate my priorities. I think my body has been trying to tell me this for a while, but I’m apparently stubborn and even a cancer diagnosis didn’t immediately send the message. I’m ready to listen now and I know what I need to do.

First and foremost, I need to start being a little more selfish with my spare time. I need to figure out how to pay off my own medical bills and get back on my feet financially instead of raising tens of thousands of dollars for other charities. I need to take time to hang out with my friends who have been so patient with me and my busy schedule. I need to find out what truly makes me happy and start focussing on those things instead of trying so hard to make other people happy. I need to get rid of the stress in my life because being as stressed out as I have been is only going to cause me to get sick. Again.

Too often, we are pressured into pretending our lives are perfect, forcing that smile, and keeping our issues quiet. When I originally wrote the first draft of this a few weeks ago, I had no intention of actually posting it. There are a lot of things I write about that I prefer to keep private and this was one of them. When I first started this cancer journey (for lack of a better term), I promised to be real and honest and after thinking about it for a few weeks, I decided I need to share this post in order to keep that promise. Maybe I’m the only one who is struggling with life after cancer, but maybe there is someone else out there who can relate and needs to know they’re not alone.

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65 thoughts on “Being a cancer survivor is hard

  1. Hang in there Crystal… 🙂 I continue to keep you in my thoughts and prayers! Remember it takes time for your body to heal. Take time for yourself, the best is yet to come!!!

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  2. I understand, I’m still working on that myself. Being a survivor IS hard. Soooo many emotions. Take a break and process and find your new normal. Stay home and rest, go out with friends, cuddle your pup and kitty. It helps me to take days where I refuse to deal with anything cancer related. Take care of yourself and enjoy the life you worked so hard for. I’m taking a stab at that right now with a few days in Cocoa Beach with my son. Hugs sweet lady, take care of you!

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  3. Crystal,

    I read your latest blog with interest. After all you have been through and beating cancer I would offer a suggestion to you. Live each day like it was your last. The little things in life will take care of themselves. Live for you and you shall be much happier.

    John Smithson
    Suffolk, Va.

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  4. God bless you! I understand what you must be feeling… My mom passed away from cancer 50 years ago. It is always hard . sometimes you are up, and sometimes you are down. My best to you always.

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  5. Dear Crystal,

    Who among all living beings does not have cancer? Please find the French version below.

    You do not have to be guilty of writing what you feel. I fully understand your fear and sometimes your loneliness. Although I was fortunate not to have a “declared cancer”, I have always lived with the anxiety of being diagnosed one day with this disease. Four years ago, my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I felt that time stopped. However, the doctors explained to me that at his age (he was 82 years old), prostate cancer is becoming a normal process in men and that there are many men who have lived with this cancer without the know until the end of their lives. That’s what helped me to rub shoulders with this disease. So, what about a young woman like you? Just for that, you are admirable and I do not speak of your beauty which makes me lose my head. But, let me tell you this:
    Who among all the living does not have cancer? It’s all a matter of timing because no one can guarantee that he will live in the coming months, or perhaps in the days, hours or minutes that follow.
    I understand that it must be hard to come back to “normal” life. But, from this point of view, normal life no longer makes sense because all lives are lost. I understand that when you’ve had a huge event like the fight against cancer, you’re living with that guilt of surviving and you do not have to be sad about any other trivial event. No, Crystal, you have the right to normal life with its joys and sometimes its sorrows. It is normal for you to get sick from time to time. It is legitimate for you to be a little sad when something hurts you physically, emotionally, mentally and even financially.
    Helping others, especially the sick and the poor, is the best way to stay happy. But your “being” starting with your body, especially after all that you have lived, have priority over the rest. Yes, take care of yourself Crystal!
    You said it well: “We can not save others in case of depressurization of the aircraft if we do not put our own oxygen mask to survive!”
    In terms of aerodynamics, “For a plane to fly safely, there must be a non-zero angle of attack between the wing and the trajectory to infinity. But if this angle exceeds a certain threshold, there is a stall phenomenon: the lift collapses and the plane drops. “.
    All this to tell you and remind you: take care of yourself Crystal!
    Thank you for your post. There are traits of your personality: courage and honesty mixed with sweetness and purity. It’s as if I wrote it myself. You are inspiring.
    I told you about my father. I did not talk about my mother or myself. Because it’s another story …
    I admire you. I love you would be more accurate!
    Fathi

    Chère Crystal,

    Qui, parmi tous les vivants, n’est pas atteint d’un cancer ?

    Vous n’avez pas à être coupable d’avoir écrit ce que vous ressentez. Je comprends parfaitement votre crainte et, parfois, votre solitude. Même si j’ai eu la chance de ne pas avoir un « cancer déclaré », j’ai toujours vécu avec cette angoisse d’être diagnostiqué un jour de cette maladie. Il y a quatre ans, mon père a été diagnostiqué d’un cancer de la prostate. J’ai eu le sentiment que le temps s’est arrêté. Cependant, les médecins m’ont expliqué qu’à son âge (il avait 82 ans), le cancer de la prostate devient un processus normal chez les hommes et qu’il y a beaucoup d’hommes qui ont vécu avec ce cancer sans le savoir jusqu’à la fin de leur vie. C’est ce qui m’a aidé à côtoyer cette maladie de près. Alors, que dire d’une jeune femme comme vous ? Rien que pour cela, vous êtes admirable et je ne parle pas de votre beauté qui me fait perdre la tête. Mais, laissez-moi vous dire ceci :
    Qui, parmi tous les vivants n’est pas atteint d’un cancer ? Tout est une question d’échéance car personne ne peut garantir qu’il vivrait dans les mois à venir, ou peut-être dans les jours, les heures ou les minutes qui vont suivre.
    Je comprends que ça doit être dur de revenir à la vie « normale ». Mais, de ce point de vue, la vie normale n’a plus de sens car toutes les vies sont amenées à disparaître. Je comprends que, quand on a vécu un événement énorme comme la lutte contre un cancer, on vit par la suite avec cette culpabilité d’avoir survécu et qu’on ne doit plus être triste pour tout autre événement aussi dérisoire soit-il. Non, Crystal, vous avez droit à la vie normale avec ses joies et parfois ses peines. Il est normal que vous tombiez malade de temps à autre. Il est légitime que vous soyez un peu triste quand quelque chose vous chagrine physiquement, émotionnellement, mentalement et même financièrement.
    Apporter de l’aide aux autres, surtout aux malades et aux gens pauvres, est le meilleur moyen de rester heureux. Mais votre « être » commençant par votre corps, surtout après tout ce que vous avez vécu, ont la priorité sur le reste. Oui, prenez soin de vous Crystal !
    Vous l’avez bien dit : « Dans un avion, on ne peut pas sauver les autres en cas de dépressurisation de l’appareil si on ne met pas notre propre masque à oxygène pour pouvoir survivre !».
    En termes d’aérodynamique, « Pour qu’un avion puisse voler en toute sécurité, il faut qu’il y ait un angle d’attaque non nul entre l’aile et la trajectoire à l’infini. Mais, si cet angle dépasse un certain seuil, il se produit un phénomène de décrochage : la portance s’effondre et l’avion chute. ».
    Tout ceci pour vous dire et vous rappeler : prenez soin de vous Crystal !
    Merci pour votre post. On y retrouve des traits de votre personnalité : courage et honnêteté mêlés à une douceur et une pureté. C’est comme si je l’ai écrit moi-même. Vous êtes inspirante.
    Je vous ai parlé de mon père. Je n’ai pas parlé de ma mère ni de moi-même. Car c’est une autre histoire…
    Je vous admire. Je vous adore serait plus exact !
    Fathi

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  6. I love every word of this post. I did not get the chance to truly “embrace being a cancer survivor” after I reached remission from my first diagnosis, so I can’t fully relate to most of this. But, I can understand where you’re coming from. There’s so many expectations for us that go through the “cancer journey” before, during, and after treatment/surgery. We are human too! We have feelings. We deal with normal life struggles. We just had a larger obstacle that most people done face.

    You are not alone. Stay strong!

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  7. Girl you can say it outould being a cancer survivor is hard, I couldn’t start to live fully my life after cancer before grieving fully ! So please do so for yourself 🙏🏼 people will always try to force some feeling on us just to feel better, they need to know we had cancer for a reason so they can sleep better at night ! Listen to yourself, I’d want to say inner self but I don’t want to sound too new-agish ! Lol ! Love, lisa

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  8. I’ve always been afraid to say that sentence too. But it is hard and unless someone has faced something like that themselves, the won’t ever understand. I was 18 when I was diagnosed and it’s been two years and I still feel everything in this post. It still haunts me in my dreams and thoughts. Every little sniffle and pain I think it’s back. But you’re right. No matter how alone we feel, we’re not. There’s someone else out there who is feeling the same thing. Thank you for your post. I really needed it tonight.

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  9. My 9 year old has been cancer free for 8 months, she struggles with the same things, I think it’s normal, even as her mom I struggle with it, I feel guilty that my daughter was cured so fast, with out complications, when I see kids pass away that played with my daughter while they got chemo I feel even more guilt because it’s not fair to other parents.
    Being a survivor is hard hun, I’ve seen it, my daughter feels like she needs to do stuff for everyone, because they did it for her, take care of yourself first, it’s not selfish.

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