Resilience: Finding Compassion and Gratitude in “Cancerland”

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve blogged, but I really did not have much to say over the past little while. To bring you up to speed, I have completed 4 rounds of chemotherapy, and have another 4 to go! Officially halfway! Even though it feels like 4 treatments went by really quickly, another part of me is dreading the next 4…12 more weeks seems like an eternity right now.

Recently I’ve had some conversations about resilience and gratitude with people in my life who I really look up to and admire. It got me thinking about my journey, myself, life in general…real deep shit ya feel me? So I’m writing to share my views, what I’ve learned so far in this process, and I hope it’s helpful to some (whether you live in cancerland or not).

I feel like I have to start off by addressing some misconceptions people have about me, and about how I’m dealing. I get told a LOT that I’m super positive, that I have so much energy, I look vibrant. I also get asked “how come you’re not angry? Sad? Depressed? Anxious? You seem just…like yourself.” I’ll let you in on a secret, I’m ALL those things (some of the time), but I refuse to let cancer dictate who I am.

Not many people see me at my low, curled up on my couch feeling like crap. Even right now, as I write this, I’m sitting in bed with a headache, body aches that haven’t gone away in 2 days, an upset stomach, bloated (I look like I could be 3 months pregnant). I’m not happy right at this moment, but I know this is temporary. I’m also angry and sad at times, and most of the time it’s not just because it’s happening to me, but because there are so many other wonderful people I’ve connected with who are on their own journey and it’s not f!@&ing fair for them either. I get anxious, of course – the future is so uncertain, but wasn’t it always? That’s the thing about the future it will always be a mystery to us. We never know what’s going to happen and that’s part of what makes life so beautiful and interesting.

Cancer has been the worst thing that has happened to me, but it has been a blessing in some ways. It’s given me the perspective to cut through the bullshit in life. It’s given me the ability to recognize what matters in life, to focus on that. In trying to find the best words to describe what it’s like I can only think of one thing, and it’s a little dark so stay with me. We all know that life is finite, but until you are faced with something big and life altering, I don’t think you really “know” or understand that. It’s like standing in a room with someone who is constantly reminding you that your time on this planet is limited and could be gone at any moment. It’s horrifying and beautiful to me because even though that concept is terrifying, I’m reminded ALL the time to embrace everyone and everything around me. I focus on what and who makes me happy and it makes it easier to disregard all the petty and insignificant things that would have occupied my time before.

Finding gratitude in all this has been hard, and occasionally I need to wake up and really concentrate on things I’m grateful for in order to feel like I can get through the day. Sometimes it’s the little things in life like new pajamas or slippers, and other times its friends and family.

I’ve also had to learn how to have self-compassion – to acknowledge that it’s okay to feel like crap, to not always be positive, and it’s so important to take care of myself. I am notorious for self-critiquing which has made dealing with chemotherapy quite difficult. Not being able to do what I’m used to doing, and being upset when I feel like crap. Just wanting to “snap out of it” and get back to life. I’ve had to learn to be okay not being okay. I think that has been my biggest challenge, and I have to work at it every day. Most of time I find self-care to be the best way, take time out with a bubble bath or focus on my art. I have to remind myself that it’s perfectly fine to spend a week doing nothing because that is what my body needs to heal.

The brain is an amazing thing, it can take a terrible situation and reconstruct it in a way that makes it easier to deal with. Resilience takes practice and work, it takes compassion and gratitude.Happiness-is-letting-go-768x768.jpg

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2 thoughts on “Resilience: Finding Compassion and Gratitude in “Cancerland””

  1. Hi Karen, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 26 (I’m 27 now). Know that you are not alone! Yes, cancer is shitty, but I think it has changed me for the better. I have my reconstruction surgery next week. I’ll be following your journey! Best wishes.

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