Over the summer I have posted various chapters from my blog book, PTSD and Cancer: Lost, alone and afraid. Many people have asked me what my response has been from those who have either found my blog via Face Book or through search engine terms, ie. “googling.” This isn’t a super stat blog but it certainly is serving it’s intended purpose.
I am receiving notes and emails from individuals thanking me for posting an honest, open and raw account of depression and cancer – Christianity, depression and cancer. Just as I had hoped, survivors are finding through my story that what they are experiencing post-treatment is not “unnormal” and that they aren’t “going crazy.” In reading their stories, my heart hurts for them as I relive what they share with me. For some survivors, I wish I could hug them and hold them and let them cry and later talk, talk about what we feel we shouldn’t be talking about because “everybody tells me I should be thankful and grateful that I am cancer free.”
My continued prayer is that in a survivor’s quest to learn more about post-treatment depression they will find my blog and read my story and find the hope and peace they so desperately are looking for. Yes, our strength comes from Christ our Savior, and in my weakness called depression He was always there whether it be through a secular counselor, a book, a web site or a cancer support group. I really was never alone and I am here to tell you – you are really never alone.
The following chapter is what I might consider one of my most provocative chapters. I hear often, very often, how once a patient is done with treatment their life fills with busyness, busyness to the point of distraction. Is it better to distract yourself after treatment pushing your cancer experience behind you or should you stop yourself and reflect on what you just went through and allow the emotions to surface that you so successfully buried?
I didn’t think I would make an entry so soon.
As I was writing this morning, my writing revealed a truth. I was disguising my pain and fear by “helping” other cancer patients and survivors. I was “helping” them by listening to them and talking with them about their suffering. I made myself available to them because, subconsciously, I desperately wanted them to answer my questions about my suffering.
Since exposing my true weakness and becoming more transparent with people, some have questioned my decision to completely drop out of “things.” I know volunteer work places attention on others and not self. After this morning’s journaling, I know I am in the right place by not filling my time with “things” but taking the time to explore me.
January 5, 2010
I am accepting my cancer, it did happen and it wasn’t a cold virus and over in 10 days. It was an unbelievably surreal, dreamy time in my life. I might mention that again and again as I accept this illness.
So far in a year and a half, I haven’t quite found myself. I came home from SLC a much spiritually deeper person. My one true anchor through all my treatment was my faith and hope in Jesus Christ. Once home and back into a routine, that intimacy and concentrated time was interrupted as the early morning turns into a day of activities.
The landscaping of our yard was a great distraction from having had cancer just months before. To be outside with growing strength and renewing energy, the sunshine and tackling one acre of “dirt” was a healthy challenge for me. Feeling strong and working on this project was like spitting in cancer’s face.
After my SCT, I expected to spend the first year of recovery fatigued and weak. I was shocked at how quickly I recovered and how my strength and stamina seemed to grow stronger daily. I was doing pretty well and I was feeling pretty well.
Literally, when we just finished the landscaping and we were enjoying the beauty of our labor, the flowers and shrubs, and the bounty of our labor, the cherries, I fell off the ladder and broke my leg. I had a lateral break in my tibia, my tibia plateau decompressed and I tore my ACL off of the bone. Surgery rebuilt all that was destroyed. My leg was reconstructed with plates and pins.
In all my years, I never felt such pain. It was overwhelming. And not only was it overwhelming, it was exhausting! The fatigue hit me like a Mac truck. The great majority of my healing was from the end of July to the end of October. The ache or discomfort and my limp lessened all through November and in late December, I noticed what remained was a slight limp.
This accident and recovery distracted me from my cancer. My thought and energy was on my leg. Toward the end of my healing, I began to spend more and more time thinking about my cancer.
I was in complete remission and my leg was better so I began to focus my attention on other people who had cancer – I had this driving passion to help them. I met with cancer patient/survivors personally. Most often they wanted to hear about my experience. I also attended our cancer support group and actively contributed to our discussions.
If I couldn’t physically be with people, I participated in on line discussion forums and I volunteered to be a telephone mentor through the Bone Marrow Unit at Huntsman. I was distracting myself again, all my thought and energy was expended on other people. It was an odd time and one I am now exploring.
I think I was superimposing my fear and pain on to others by disguising it as “helping” them get through their fear and pain. In an odd way, I wanted them to answer my questions about me. I wanted to ask them three questions. One, if the cancer recurred how would you determine what action to take? Another type of chemotherapy that makes you feel sick and crappy or another form of treatment? How would you choose quality of life verses quantity of life? Dying more quickly and naturally or a prolonged death being kept alive by drugs and transfusions? Two, how/when do you know enough is enough? (kind of the same as one) And three, discuss the reality of death and dying. I thought I was being helpful to them but really this was all about me, me and my curiosity and my grasping for answers to these questions.
I believe before my anxiety and stress manifested, I was becoming more and more obsessed with these issues and perhaps even a little manipulative with others. I wanted to make my problem their problem, I wanted them to answer my questions. I wanted answers and really nobody could give me answers. As my frustration grew, my doubt grew; I began to feel guilty and I felt ashamed. I realized I was not as strong as I thought I was and I had not overcome the psychological aftermath but was feeling the vortex pull me down again. I wanted answers but nobody could give me answers.
Why, after a year and a half was I still suffering? Shouldn’t I have overcome all of this by now? Does anybody else struggle like me? Do they think of these things? Doesn’t anybody talk honestly and openly about these issues or do we always have the “hope” that possibly some new drug will come along to save us? Stupid questions, selfish questions especially when there are women I know dying from cancer. Stupid, selfish questions – I should be grateful I am alive and in complete remission.
And I broke. I am not strong, but I am broken and afraid. I hurt and there is this deep, deep pain hiding in me.