It’s important that we share our experiences with other people. Your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else. When you tell your story, you free yourself and give other people permission to acknowledge their own story. “ – Iyanla Vanzant
Someone recently told her story in response to a piece I posted on my blog. After writing about a very emotional and important event in her life, she became concerned that she had “said too much and might frighten others” when they read about her experience. I reassured her that the courage she showed in expressing herself is more likely to help others open themselves up than to frighten them away.
The power of narrative opens a door into us. When we tell our story, when someone listens, we feel less alone, we touch one another in a place of understanding. Historically and cross culturally, telling personal stories is an essential way that we communicate, understand our experiences and integrate them into our lives.
And so, I thought I would offer my own story …
In the spring of 2007 I discovered a lump in my breast. By the fall of 2007 I had undergone several surgeries, a grueling course of chemotherapy, and radiation treatment. Even now those months feel unreal; I still wonder if somehow they had the wrong chart. I went from feeling fine to being in pain, horribly nauseated from chemo drugs, and burned by radiation. I watched my long curls fall into the tub drain. My mouth filled with sores. My eyes turned red. Too bad it wasn’t Halloween, because I was the perfect zombie! Scans, tests, blood draws, and MRIs became familiar, yet the feelings each one produced can still evoke anxiety now, years after the initial diagnosis.
The scars on my breast and under my armpits are not visible to others. I have only one visible scar—on my chest, in the spot where my port catheter was placed to deliver the chemotherapy that saved my life. After first finishing treatment for breast cancer, I covered this scar, still vulnerable and traumatized. But I no longer worry about it showing. What remains visible is the scar from the treatment of cancer, not the cancer itself.
I was not prepared for this reality. No one told me what would happen to me after treatment. It’s likely that other survivors feel this way, too. Elizabeth Ward, national vice president of intramural research at the American Cancer Society, reports this: “We are focusing on the number of people who are now alive who have experienced cancer at some time in the past, and their transition from treatment to recovery and the balance of their life. But cancer survivors do have potential problems, including issues with quality of life and the need for both physical and psychological follow-up care. Cancer survival can affect one’s life long-term. Cancer survivors shouldn’t feel abandoned after treatment has stopped.”
I hope that you will feel free to tell your story … your experience matters.
Some of the above text is taken from my upcoming book, Surviving the Storm: Helping Cancer Survivors Tell Their Stories