CancerCon was one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve had regarding my survivorship and myself in a long time. Actually… ever.
Honestly, as someone who is almost 9 years out from the end of her cancer treatment, you’d probably think I’d be fine by now. Like cancer is just a part of who I am and it’s in my past now and I’m over it. But I found myself getting extremely emotional (but choking back the tears, because that’s what I do) over the smallest mentions of things that resonated with me and my experiences.
I learned so much about myself and my experience with AYA cancer, so I feel like sharing. And for the fun of it, let’s do this countdown style.
#10) Arts and crafts make me really happy.
The arts and crafts session was a
wesome. It reminded me that I love creating things and sparked an interest in getting my DIY on for some therapeutic me time.
#9) Long-term follow-up care is extremely important.
I’m not getting the long-term follow-up care that I should be, and I need to self-advocate in order to get it. I got the tools I need to work with my oncology team, a survivorship clinic, and a primary care doc to create a comprehensive survivorship care plan. I am at serious risk for secondary cancers and additional health problems based on the various treatments I received, and I need to make sure I’m on top of all this and getting the tests that I need to catch anything that comes up early.
#8) Exercise isn’t scary if you have understanding humans by your side.
I’ve always known that exercise is important, but since my cancer diagnosis it’s been extremely difficult to get active again. At the Exercise and Cancer session though the differences between AYA cancer survivors’ bodies and “normal” people’s bodies was discussed. I realized I’ve just been trying to keep up with the normal ones instead of adjusting my ideas about what exercise is to match up with my body’s needs.
#7) I have to stop suppressing the fear and worry.
The uncertainty I have about my future, my fertility, and secondary cancers create a lot of worry and fear that I’ve been suppressing. When I suppress these, issues show up in unrelated areas of my life. And then I break down out of the blue. And I think it has been because I feel so uncertain about what is to come in my future, and whether I’ll have to face everything on my own. Gotta stop suppressing that stuff, because breaking down isn’t fun.
#6) It’s okay to be sad.
I need to allow that sadness in so it can’t build up so much that it mows me down. Similar to the previous note, it’s no fun to break down because you’ve suppressed feelings and stuff. An important thing I learned in the general session where Julie Larson spoke is that sadness and anger usually go hand in hand, but people tend to be more quick to go with one or the other. I am super uncomfortable with being sad, but much more okay with the anger. But I need to let myself get sad about the things that affect me, because it will keep me more level and grounded instead of flying off the handle (like I do about the current political situation in the US).
#5) I am not just a cancer survivor.
Yes, cancer is a huge part of who I am as a person. But cancer is not the only thing that makes me me. I’m a craft beer lover. I’m a dog mom. I’m a major extrovert. And yes, I’m also an AYA cancer survivor. All of these things make up who I am, and I have to make sure to pay attention to all of them instead of just the one.
#4) I don’t have to only feel one way about what I went through.
I can be empowered by my cancer experience, saddened by it, and angry about what it stole from me all at the same time. It’s going to be a mixture of feelings no matter what. Yes, my cancer was a blessing in a lot of respects. It was also a curse. It will affect me for the rest of my life in both negative and positive ways.
#3) It’s important to stay focused on my needs and goals, but also maintain balance.
My professional goals, my personal goals, and my day-to-day needs can’t fall by the wayside because of whatever I’m feeling. I have to remain focused on what I want out of life, but I also have to make time to have those feelings and what not. It’s all about maintaining that balance between both.
#2) There’s no time limit on my grief.
Cancer took a lot from me, and I’m allowed to hurt from that for as long as I need. Just because I’m nearly 9 years out from my last treatment doesn’t mean I have to be over it. I will probably never be over it. And I need to be okay with letting myself feel the emotions that come up regarding that whenever they do. Whether it’s sadness or anger or worry, I need to greet the feeling, experience it, and continue to move forward. These emotions are just a part of it.
#1) I’m not alone in my survivorship.
Even though it might feel like there’s no one who can understand what I’ve been through most of the time, there are thousands of AYA survivors who do. I met only a portion of these people at CancerCon, but I need to remember that they’re there and maintain my connections with them. Just because they’re not sitting next to me in Denver every day doesn’t mean they aren’t here in my life.