Recently I wrote about the loneliness that can happen in cancer survivorship. More people looked at that topic than any other I have ever posted. This confirms my belief that there is a great need for people who have survived cancer to tell their stories and to be offered services and support throughout the rest of their lives.
The following is an excerpt from my book, Surviving the Storm: Helping Cancer Survivors Tell Their Stories
I believe that the treatment of the emotional trauma of cancer is as important as the treatment of the physical disease. Psychosocial support and psychotherapy are the pillars of healing for the survivors of treatment for life-threatening illness, as well as for the growing population of people who live with cancer. The capacity to look within and beyond cancer and the development of a strong self-advocacy are both key to healing and moving on with your life. When untreated, the emotional wounds of cancer continue to cause suffering that you do not need to endure. It is the medicine of the soul integrated with the medicine for the body that creates healing.
There is a great need for people who have been diagnosed with cancer to tell their stories—to share the real story of the emotional storm that is cancer, as well as the ravages of its treatments; to tell the tale of the cancer survivor who is moving from patient to person. You may not “feel like your old self,” for it is not possible to remain who you were after the experience of facing life-threatening illness and the trauma of the treatment for that illness. The first year after the completion of treatment is a key time to explore and discover who you are after having faced the challenges of a cancer diagnosis. This is the time to create a care plan and begin the necessary process of self-advocacy for your survivorship care.
“They say that cancer changes you…it does. They call me a survivor now . . . I am part of the club. My experience has made me a better person. I can’t tell you what exactly yet because I am still going through it. I’m sure I’ll know how to articulate it soon.”
—Pam L., cancer survivor
While it is confusing and frightening, your experience of finishing treatment for cancer can become a powerful opportunity to release trauma and move into a new stage of life. There are some survivors who continue with some form of treatment as they learn to live with the reality of managing cancer in their lives. The shadow of illness lingers. Some of the side effects of treatment are not visible and can be very consequential—for example, ongoing pain from radiation, heart problems due to chemotherapy, lymphedema, and scar tissue issues resulting from surgeries. “Chemo brain” is real and bothersome for people as they struggle with cognitive issues. I deal with sensory peripheral neuropathy, which was caused by chemotherapy and is not apparent until a shooting pain makes me wince or my balance goes berzerk and I walk like I’m drunk. Though no longer always a death sentence, cancer can become a chronic illness. The growing population of survivors is misunderstood and underserved, particularly in regard to their emotional and psychological needs. There is value in addressing these needs and creating a plan that is not merely a medical record but includes the heart and soul of cancer survivorship.