I tried to stop writing about colon cancer a little while ago. Well, sort of. I moved away from writing on my Semicolon Stories blog – a site I began after my second diagnosis. Its musings and content mostly focused on “life after colorectal cancer.” I took an active step away from blogging about my illness so much.

I began this new blog as a way to start fresh.

I wanted to write about simple blessings of life like my daughter and buying red shorts without a cancer umbrella hanging over me. Truth be told, I wanted to be free.

Seeking Freedom

I deeply longed for any type of reprieve from cancer that life afforded me. I wanted to silence the constant threat of recurrence. Cast away embarrassing, uncomfortable side effects (as if it’s as simple as cleaning out my closet and donating unwanted clothes to Goodwill). I set out to straighten a warped sense of identity that included cancer survivorship, among other roles that gave me worth. The internal pressure that pushed me to talk, write and think about cancer at all times nearly drove me mad.

So I stopped – at least in one small way that appeared controllable. I started this new blog and stopped writing about cancer so much. At first, it did help.

Writing’s always given me the gift of escaping to a whole new world, even if it’s to figure out the one in which I live. A world where I can choose fiction or non-fiction. Real or pretend. Heavy or light-hearted. It’s often behind the keyboard that I slowly start to learn how I really feel or what I really perceive to be true.

It’s from behind the keyboard that I found a safe place to start seeing myself not as Danielle – the cancer survivor (I blogged about my struggle with identity for the Samfund last fall) but as Danielle – the gal born in 1983 who happened to survive cancer.

That’s the quest I’ve faced for the past year.

Facing Trauma

Around a year ago a heaviness I even now struggle to explain came upon me. Moments in life poked at unresolved emotions. Life naturally brought a series of events that shook me up pretty hard. Memories of trauma knocked on my door.

I finally chose to answer it.

Flashbacks, anxiety and depression rushed in and set the stage. It was as though the emotions that couldn’t sink into my 17-year-old cancer-fighting brain over a decade ago crouched hidden in the shadows for just the right time. Losing cancer-fighting moms, removing benign polyps during my colonoscopy and battling virus after virus due to my still-weakened immune system got the best of me.

A whole squad of emotions that warmed the bench for quite some time were suddenly put into the game.

For the first time, I felt the full weight of what it’s like to face cancer. I felt crazy since I wasn’t actually facing the physical fight again. Yet the emotional and mental fight was on. But it wasn’t that simple – as if facing cancer itself was not complex enough.

Any cancer fighter knows the disease doesn’t wait to appear until you’re ready for it. It drops into an already-burdened life. As I focused on healing from cancer, my target expanded so I could fully heal.

Just like a cure for disease takes killing all cancer cells, freedom meant facing all life traumas – not just one. I had to face all of life’s pains, not just cancer.

danielle-ripley-burgess-colon-cancer

A New Day

I’ve not blogged or posted about this process very much over the past year. It’s not easy to disclose these types of events. As much as I love the keyboard, words alone cannot always convey a full story or the searing pain surrounding it.

Plus, writing about trauma is hard. It took lots of coloring to unlock it. Words came second, sometimes third.

I had to kill an old trick I picked up as a teenage cancer fighter – protect everyone else and hide my true self. (I wrote about coming out of hiding for 7 Billion Ones.) I had to be OK with not being OK. Laying down all sense of self worth and pride is what it took for me to see light again. The light picked me up and is still helping me put the pieces back together.

I’ve recently felt called to open up about this experience on my blog. I see a need to start writing about surviving colon cancer again.

Why? Two main reasons.

One – the survivor community.

The guilt of surviving silences me, shame embarrasses me about struggles I still face. The fact I survived colon cancer is old news. I pressure myself to simply “get over it.” Yet I’ve recently become aware that it’s not old news, nor an old story, to those just now diagnosed – or those also facing these same issues decades later. As survivors we need one another to be real and honest. Acting out of guilt and shame is not freedom. I see the power that comes when I share I’ve been in post-trauma counseling for cancer. When I say I’ve faced mental distress and worked to find a “new normal” every few years, freedom appears not just for me, but others, too.

Two – I must pay it forward.

Through this journey I’ve encountered the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I’m not an alcoholic but I’ve witnessed the power of the program and applied it to my own issues. The road of AA indeed leads to freedom – the program “works if you work it.” Toward the end of the 12 steps comes a responsibility to give back and help others face what you did. Freedom isn’t a gift to keep to yourself.

I don’t return to writing about this as though it’s my duty. The pressure I once felt to talk about cancer is gone, the “responsibility” I carried is no more. But I do walk in freedom from experiences that once kept me bound. It’s an honor to open up about them. Awakening is what occurs toward the end of the 12 steps, along with a natural desire to help others also see and feel free.

I’m still on a process and face new issues that sprout up once in awhile. But they don’t shut me down like they used to – or at least for as long. It’s my daily goal to stay here.

It’s because of that I can now step out, open up, and blog about colon cancer again.