I feel this is an important chapter in my book, PTSD and Cancer: Lost, alone and afraid. I often hear survivors living an overwhelmingly busy schedule in order to avoid the emotional and mental pain post-treatment for cancer. Is this the healthy thing to do? Read on for my story . . .
December 30, 2009
“Sorting things out”; that’s what I am doing right now, sorting things out.
Cancer, stunner. Treatment, focused. Transplant, necessary. Recovery, distracted. Today, sorting things out.
(You know, even a year ago I wasn’t done with my treatments. I started radiation nearly a year ago in February.)
Lately, I received some wonderful, compassionate emails. As I replied to them, I found myself writing long letters. The words just poured out of me; I didn’t realize the depth of my pain.
As I wrote about one memory, I was unaware how deeply it affected me – my emotions rose to the surface.
“Recently, I realized I was terrified of my transplant. When the nurses handed me this two inch thick notebook of what could happen, what to expect and how to live once released from the hospital, followed by a lecture and tour of the unit, I knew what I was about to do was tentative but I had to do it to give myself the best chance to live. I buried the fear. My gosh, I literally moved into my hospital room not knowing how long I would stay there. When a larger room opened up on the wing (I don’t remember how many days into my transplant I was), I moved into it and this larger room had flies in it and flies carry germs and I was supposed to be in a germ-free, controlled environment – the flies were a potential death warrant. (I could cry right now remembering that)”
The emotion sat inside all day. I never acknowledged the fear those flies created in me. Last night while sitting in the car waiting for Dale to pick up a pizza, I said out loud to no one, “Those flies weren’t supposed to be in my room.” And I cried. They weren’t supposed to be in my room . . .
Other memories surfaced – I am surprised by all of this.
I wrote Erin at Cancer Care today. Her letter confirms my decision to bow out of my responsibilities and she asks a question:
“Is there something you are trying to avoid by distracting yourself so thoroughly (to the point of exhaustion I might add). Sometimes this can be a way to sublimate some of the very intense feelings that come along with remembering the traumatic memories associated with your cancer.”
Being the personality I am, I sat quietly on that question. What am I suppressing? And the door opened . . .
It’s good to hear from you personally and thank you for sharing all that you’ve shared. I’m so sorry that you’re having such a rough time right now and I do want to first let you know that many of the emotions you described are absolutely a normal part of the survivorship/post treatment process and phase. You have been through so much, physically, mentally, emotionally and I can hear you trying to wrap your mind around all of this, which is important to your recovery, but can be gut wrenching and tiresome. But this is something that will be a process and answers may take some time to develop- you are doing a wonderful job of exploring and trying to make sense of it all (I love the antonyms by the way- I hope it was helpful to try to define some of your feelings). You also are asking some very meaningful questions, some of which I think you will find can be further explored and mirrored within the group space, but some of the more specific questions about self-esteem, life direction and purpose may be best navigated with the help of a counselor or a social worker who can help you to work through some of this individually and directly. I can send you some local resources if you would like to pursue this route, Cyndi. How does that sound?
Here is a link to an impactful article from the Oral Cancer Foundation which I thought might resonate for you and help you to further understand some of your own feelings and reactions: http://oralcancerfoundation.org/emotional/survivors_1.htm. In addition to this I have attached an article (PDF) about a survivorship program called REACH- it also discusses some of the challenges of survivorship.
I hope this message reaches you well and please let me know if you’d like those individual resources and I will send them along. “See” you in the group space!
Erin Columbus, LMSW
Program Coordinator of Online Client Service
(The letter above was a personal email from Erin; this second one was on the group discussion board.)
Cyndi, you bring up a salient point in the midst of a very busy and pressure filled time of year. It sounds like you are cognizant of the fact that you are trying to do way too much this year, but not exactly sure why…. I wonder if you might sit and reflect with us for a few moments about that? Is there something you are trying to avoid by distracting yourself so thoroughly (to the point of exhaustion I might add). Sometimes this can be a way to sublimate some of the very intense feelings that come along with remembering the traumatic memories associated with your cancer. For now, I would strongly urge you to be good to yourself and to nurture your spirit- you are still very much recovering from the pain and trauma of your experience (this is completely normal by the way) and it is more important now more than ever to be nurturing, kind and patient with yourself, first and foremost. Be mindful before saying yes to anything. It is okay to say no, especially if it is something that is not realistic for you. In fact, it’s imperative. You also ask a salient question amidst all of this: “Who am I and what am I to do with myself?” That is a very good place to start and please, remember; this is a process, not an answer that will come to you in a flash of genius- something that slowly develops over time, along with yards of patience, reflection, exploration….”
“Yards of patience . . .” how about that?
It is a relief to be told this will take a while to sort out.
I asked Erin to refer me to a qualified therapist in our area; being a smaller city I hope there is one here. I also found her link (above) to an article very validating, there is a section on post-traumatic stress disorder. The article recommends cognitive behavioral therapy.
It is the beginning of Book III. I think once I allow myself to really look back at what happened and feel the pain and fear, I will start to balance back over to normal. It’s like a teeter totter, I’m either up or down and I need to get back to the middle!