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  • Writer's pictureHeatherCelestePhD


I just heard the word survivorship a week or so ago. I’d heard of being called a cancer survivor, which hasn’t really sat okay with me since I’ve only very recently been declared in remission, and don’t really trust it yet. A sweet friend says we are cancer thrivers, which feels better, like you don’t have to just settle for surviving cancer, you can thrive. That feels good, but also feels like a bit of pressure, you can’t just get back to your life as it was, you have to thrive! For me right now, the word survivorship is resonating more with how I feel. It sounds like work, like a job in itself, something you have to participate in and take care of.

Even after working as a nurse for many years, so many things about having cancer surprised me, not the least of which was that everything wasn’t immediately back to normal the day of my last chemo treatment. Irrational I know, but some part of me really expected that. But I didn’t feel anywhere near normal. Not after my last treatment, or the month after, or six months after. Not after my first clear CT scan, my first clear PET scan, or my second clear CT scan.

I was able, with help, to come to terms with the physical symptoms and changes after treatment. Both my allopathic and naturopathic oncologists said it would take at the least a year and up to two years for my body to heal after the surgeries and chemotherapy, and that some things might not ever be the same. When the six month mark hit and I was still significantly feeling side effects, I started to believe them. I am only recently starting to believe that healing is continuing to happen, that nerves especially heal slow, but that they can and are still healing. Typing was extremely uncomfortable during and for many months following chemo from the neuropathy in my fingers, but as I type this now I can just barely feel the discomfort. Healing is still happening.

There was and is something bigger happening though, that didn’t really coalesce for me consciously until I heard the word survivorship. I came across this reel by shudlucky on Instagram: . In it she says “Survivorship is hard. You’re not alone. We’ll figure it out together.” Seeing those words I got teary and wailed in my head “Survivorship is hard! Nothing’s ever going to be the same! I just want everything to go back to how it was before!” I had recognized hard moments, but I hadn’t tallied them all together or understood the impact they were having on the life I was trying to get back to and on with.

I think the most significant aspect of this post treatment time is that every slight difficulty I face, I throw in my own face over and over thoughts like “You should just be happy you’re still alive!” or “Just think how horrible you would feel if the cancer had come back, you should just be thankful.” This self-invalidation and shame is what feels the most painful. It’s like I’m telling myself I’m never again allowed to feel bad in any way shape or form because I am lucky enough to have survived, I should only ever feel thankful and grateful.

I know life doesn’t work that way and feelings especially don’t work that way. Feelings that are invalidated and not allowed to come to the light get buried in the unconscious and eat away at you from the inside out, dare I say, like a cancer. One of the biggest lessons I remember learning in my emotional healing work is that you can feel completely opposing feelings at the same time, multiples actually!

So, I can feel grateful my hair is growing back and annoyed that it looks like a 50’s bouffant right now. I can feel relieved that my latest test is clear and resentful about the time I spent waiting and worrying about the results. I can feel thankful for the loving care I received from my spouse and angry they had to take care of me. Giving myself permission to allow my negative feelings, to give them validity, and to acknowledge that survivorship is work that has its ups, downs, and challenges to figure out makes it feel…doable.

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Gary Glickman
Gary Glickman

Thank you sooooooooo much for writing and sharing this piece. I'm very moved to feel part of your healing circle, as I'm sure many —many—other readers will be.

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