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 From Cancer
I deeply longed for any type of reprieve from cancer that life afforded me. I wanted to silence the constant threat of recurrence, to 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. Writing lets me live in 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.
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 colon 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, facing infertility and battling virus after virus due to my 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.
Feeling the weight of cancer
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. 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.
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. Inner healing is a private thing.
Plus, writing about trauma is hard.
It's taken lots of coloring to unlock it. Words come 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.
The survivor community.
The survivor's guilt of surviving cancer silences me and 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 is it an old story, to those just now diagnosed or those who are also facing these same issues. 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 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.
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 cancer 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.
Danielle, My name is Gary AKA the Silver One from twitter…
You might remember I’ve been diagnosed with this disease as STAGE 4,
confirmation came May 30th 2013. It was the WORST phone call I ever rec’d,the next month of treatment (I chose Chemo & Radiation at the same time), what OTHER choice did I have? On July 3rd 2013, the pain was at it’s worst, I couldn’t handle it anymore,It was THEN I asked God I’m ready to come home….Let God decide whether to take me or let me FIGHT!
Here it is, Labor Day weekend 2016, still fighting best I can! I’ve been through so much, recently saw a quote “GOD DOESN’T GIVE US MORE THAN WE CAN HANDLE”. Danielle, I know you’ve been through a lot too…..so much ONLY another Cancer patient like myself can understand despite being at different levels of treatment.
Danielle, we ALL have of our own support system & team of doctors to best to manage our care. I’m not for one who decides now is time to live life to the fullest, RATHER keep doing what I can, as I can & how I can. Getting back to playing Ice Hockey was sparked BECAUSE of the ineptness & lies from my FIRST Oncology back office staff & ASSIGNED case worker. My initial diagnosis, I lost THREE months of treatment time only to lose ANOTHER 31 days of just getting an appointment with a liver surgeon that took another 3 weeks just for a consultation! I finally had resection of the liver to remove (5) tumors on Nov 2014!
Since that time somewhere between 8~9 tumors have grown throughout my body just ONE month after having Liver resection surgery….I just KNEW something was not “right” with me Jan 2015! I haven’t quit, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t crossed my mind since…..
To hear, read about people $CAMMING people because they don’t have CANCER but made it all look like they might, makes my heart scream with anger, HOW DARE THEY!!!! They have no idea what a Cancer patient goes through on a daily basis…
Don’t QUIT gurl, I sure haven’t despite being on FOUR chemo drugs & all of the side effects that come with them….
The Silver One!
I do remember you… thank you. Stay strong too! 🙂
Both of you are huge inspirations!!! God is on your side!
Your writings help many in their colorectal cancer journey and help others understand what a journey through colorectal cancer is like. Of course our survivors journey through colorectal cancer is never really over, until life itself is over. Some of us are lucky and live for years, others aren’t and their demise occurs much too soon.
But like you say, even if we’ve beaten it physically you always live with it mentally. Once we’ve had it colorectal always leaves wounds. They may have physically healed but they can always be reopened; and the stress and knowledge of that leaves us with an open, festering, mental wound – that needs to be tended, dressed and cared for.
There are standards of care for our physical ailments but fewer standard prescriptions for mental ones. I think sharing ourselves and our mental prescriptions can help survivors and others live with this disease.
I’m glad Danielle you’ll start blogging again, and sharing your thoughts and struggles. You’re a wonderful writer, and helping others by sharing your thoughts is one of the most powerful medicines in your pharmacy!
Thank you Tom such a great way to say that & glad to know I’m not alone! 🙂
Danielle, thank you for writing about the fear of cancer’s return. This speaks to me (and so many others). 3 different types of cancer in 9 years. So far, all have been caught early. And you spoke for all of us when you said we have to be OK when we are not OK. For the ones we love. Bless you and thank you.
Thanks, Kim. Wow I can imagine the fear of recurrence. Glad to know it struck a chord, blessed by your feedback!
I was diagnosed with Melanoma at a Clarks Level 4 in 2000, but was blessed and didn’t have to go through radiation or Chemo. Danielle, because I personally know you and your family there have been times when I “worry” about things that aren’t right and I go in and get it checked…..you never know how the cancer will show back up. It is because of your previous blog that keeps me on my toes when something is not right…. I was the one that would say, “It will go away” and thanks to your blog I don’t do that anymore. I’m glad you are bringing it back for others as it has helped me alot!! Your a huge blessing and what a wonderful writer you are!!!
I’m not sure if I ever saw this comment but am reading it now. Thanks for such awesome encouragement & I am so glad you don’t assume it will just go away!! 🙂
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