“I am now on the other side of treatment. My hair is coming back, much different than it was before, but beautiful. However my body will never be the same. The things that will never be the same are not things people can see, but I know. My experience with cancer from watching my mother and sister die to surviving my own has made me a much more confident person. When I lost my breasts and all my body hair I felt androgynous. I hated looking at myself, but I have a wonderful husband who through comic relief made me feel better about myself. I know not everyone has this positive reinforcement. You have to reach deep inside to find what is important and fight. My breasts and hair do not make me who I am. My cancer has made me a much more introspective and compassionate person. I love sharing joy with people, that joy is strangely a result of cancer. I feel like I am one of the lucky ones.”
Above are the comments left by Jane Howard on my post about the stigma of a changing appearance. I was very moved by them, and felt that they must be shared, for everyone to read. Unless you have experienced this kind of situation, it is very difficult to understand the true enormity, of what happens, when someone receives a cancer diagnosis. I frequently use the expression ‘life changing,’ which it truly is, but even that never really feels adequate!
In many cases, our physical changes are obvious, but it is the psychological issues, and the things that people don’t see, which are the real hurdles to our wellbeing. The difficulty for the medical profession is that each case is as unique as us. We are all affected differently. Some more, and some less, but cancer will without doubt leave you with scars. Either physical, mental or both.
Above, Jane talks about becoming a more introspective and compassionate person. That has also happened to me, and many people I know. Ironically, my wife was talking to me about some of my ex work colleagues, and I told her that I can’t even believe that I was a ruthless business man, before I got cancer. Money used to be my driver, and I spent most of my previous life chasing it. Now, in my new life, other than ensuring we have enough to get by on, money rarely enters my thoughts. My main driver, is to improve things for people affected by cancer.
I have always been both physically and mentally tough, and that certainly has helped get me through the major changes in my life. In her comments, Jane also mentions that she has become a confident person, and I think I understand what she means. Personally I have seen some of the darkest times, anyone could possibly imagine. My confidence has never been an issue, but my situation now feels strangely empowering. Although of course, it is not one I would have chosen.
My master is my own health now, which is very restricting, but after a long time I am used to that. It limits many of the things I do physically, but I have a new-found freedom. No longer chasing a career, and suffering the company of others, for politeness. I tell it as it is, and don’t do things because they will be good for my future!
How did all that happen? When I entered the process I was determined that no matter what treatment I was facing, I was going to recover, and go back to the work I loved so much. Every chemotherapy session I went through, was a step forward to my ultimate goal. I was determined not to be brought to my knees by cancer. It became a personal challenge, and I wasn’t going to be changed by it. But I was!
Many people say that cancer has had a positive impact in their life. Obviously no one would choose that option, but I understand what they mean. In my experience, a diagnosis forces a life review, and it is then that you start understanding the things that are truly important in your life. Mostly, it is the simple things that you appreciate. The rest feels like garnish, on life’s plate.
When diagnosed with cancer, there is no doubt, that your life will change, not much will stay the same. Some people find strength when they felt there was none. Others lose it. On occasions you will be unable to do things you used to be able to, but life may compensate, and show you new things. It is very hard to prepare, as change just happens. How you see yourself, may even change, like it has for me.
I would like to thank Jane, for sharing her very personal thoughts with us. Also to everyone who takes the time to leave comments here. We are learning from each other, and this site is all about sharing experience. Your feedback is valuable, and I would like to know how cancer has changed you.
Chris I’m so honored that you shared my thoughts. I truly hope they can give someone the will to carry on.
This a great example of what this community is all about. With my writing I try and talk about issues around cancer that are rarely discussed, things that have made me think, and I know, other people too. As you are only too well aware, there is a lot of ‘fear’ around the disease, and my aim is to remove some of that by bringing things into the open.
Thank you for helping me do that! Chris
My 1st.radiotherapy session at age 54 I met a young family with a 10 year old boy who was having treatment.Put everything into perspective. Always someone worse off than yourself.
Many thanks for sharing your experience.I know what you mean by that too! My work takes me into many areas of the field of cancer, and on the days I feel sorry for myself, I can always find someone else with a more incredible story than my own.
I hope things are going positively for you, Chris
Your strength and determination are so inspiring. Cancer can take your hair, your strength, your cells–but it can never take you which is clearly shown by your story.
Thank you so much for your comments Dana. I have been very lucky, that I know. Of course every case is different, but if I can provide hope for others I will be a happy man.
I have always been mentally strong, and hopefully, my time is not yet. I have unfinished business!! I’m so pleased you are enjoying the new site, and thank you for taking the time to comment. Chris
[…] You can read similar themes echoed on Diane’s latest post as she writes about image and on Chris’ Cancer blog. […]
Nice blog chris and its very powerful how you describe your own transition. It’s both honest and hopeful and that feels just right. Go well. Audrey x
Thx for your comments Audrey, much appreciated. I try and talk as honestly as possible, to encourage people to think about their own lives. My best to you, Chris
thank you for the chance to read about Jane’s thoughts on how cancer has changed her, but in spite of it, she remains joyful and confident. and I so appreciate what you have told about your own changes post treatment. you both have had so much to deal with, but remain vibrant and hopeful.
as you know, I have been diagnosed with two completely unrelated cancers in a period over just two years – the last came 8 weeks after my beloved Hugh, who also had cancer, passed away. even reeling with the shock of that loss, I, too believed I would receive the best care and would recover (relatively) – many of the changes in my appearance and to my psyche had already said, “been there, done that”, though there was a somewhat underlying indifference to it all with the added element of new and nearly incomprehensible widowhood added to the mix. but I digress.
what I have noticed both with widowhood and cancer that seems to make such a difference as we proceed with processing it all is the victimhood mentality that some cancer patients project. the “why me?” of it all that is so cruelly pervasive to those who are unable to accept the randomness of cancer, those who feel stuck in misery and anger that steals away hope and any semblance of confidence in themselves and their medical team, that obliterates the chance to see a future that can still be enriched with many beautiful gifts that life presents, that forms a mindset of being preyed upon unfairly and the inability to reconcile the changes they must undergo and are not able to endure without believing they have been chosen to suffer. I find it so ironic that those who suffer in this way end up becoming those whose cancer does define them.
of course, we all respond with a variety of emotions that, at first blush, are not pretty or easy to accept. shock, anger, disappointment, uncertainty, burdens levied against those we love, fear and many other responses. but with time and effort and support we hopefully put ourselves into partnership with those who are caring for us and carry on as best we are able. and admittedly, all those emotions can rear their ugly heads many times over all along the cancer path we travel. but for one who feels victimized, it seems impossible to ever see hope and even a dim light at any portion of the journey that may offer indications of successful treatment. they seem unable to trust, unable to believe that life can ever be reshaped into one that is again meaningful, albeit, life that will always have some measure of unpredictability as far as cancer is concerned – but even without cancer, can life ever be predictable?
most everyone knows or knows of a person who sees themselves as a “victim”. but the question is how can we help them? what can we say to them, what can we do for them, what can we offer in the way of understanding and compassion. it seems not much. but it also seems incredibly short-sighted and inhumane to ignore them. maybe a first line of defense is for clinicians to pay more careful attention to how their patients are coping, spend more time listening and encouraging dialogues with questions about how they are feeling, allowing for a safe place to land when strong emotions spill out, and avoid being patronizing or paternalistic
I often wonder when and why the victim mentality sets in. and I feel enormous compassion for those who are afflicted. is it a matter of losing control, having their dreams shattered in a milli-second upon diagnosis, a form of fright that cannot be faced and morphs into anger that becomes forever consuming, a sense of shame to have their body betray them (that also fuels the anger)?
i feel so grateful you and jane have been so honest about the truths of a diagnosis of cancer and all it imposes over a lifetime. and i do believe the hope that if even one person can be inspired, feel more hopeful, and know they are not alone will be realized.
much love and light to you both,
Wow, I had to read your comments a few times, to ensure I understood you correctly. Hopefully I have!It is why I write my pieces, and try to cover subjects that others don’t, to try and provoke thoughts.
As Diane says below, your experience is invaluable to all of us, and thank you for sharing. I have often had similar thoughts to yours. But I have always been a confident and positive person, and I was shocked when entering the world of cancer, how some people very quickly became ‘victims.’ I also learned quickly, that you couldn’t tell someone to be positive, if they weren’t feeling that way.
As you are so aware cancer affects us all differently, but the dangers I see are in the psychological and emotional issues. A very difficult area for clinicians to get involved. In my experience, the fear surrounding cancer can sometimes affect people more than the disease itself.
Thank you so much for your comments Karen, and I hope your personal stuff is going ok. You are never far from my thoughts, Chris xxx
Thank you for your words and God Bless you! I want so much to help people and provide inspiration to others who are dealing with cancer. I don’t really know how to do this so I chose Chris’s website! So glad I can bring you a ray of sunshine when things can be so cloudy!
Thanks again for sharing those comments with me. They were the key ingredient in this post, which has been and continues to be, very popular. As you can see by the comments, they have provoked a lot of thought.
This is exactly why this site is open, so that we can all try and help each other, with our own unique experience.
There are many people who are very grateful to hear from you. Thanks again Jane, Chris x
[…] message yesterday with the link to his website. I personally felt really inspired by his most recent blog post and wanted to share it with you, but let me just give you the highlights to inspire […]
Karen, you need your own blog. I’ll never stop learning from you, your ability to articulate your thoughts is amazing. Sorry Chris for hijacking your comment box for this messaging. ~D
Hi Diane. This community is open for all, and sharing experiences is how we all learn. I would also like to thank Karen, because I have learned a lot too. As you may have seen previously, I have used Karen’s comments to form a blog, so that I could share her experience publicly.
My thanks to everyone who contributes their experiences to this site. We are all enriched by that. My best to you Diane, Chris
Chris, this is a very thought-provoking post. I was a compassionate person before cancer, so that didn’t really change. What did change was that I went from merely existing in a horrible marriage and job situation to seizing the reins of my life and living. I got divorced and found a better job. Psychologically, it’s been rough.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Very much appreciated. As you are aware a cancer experience makes you think so differently about things. I still don’t really know what normal is, so I enjoy writing my own thoughts, to provoke others to think about their experience. Maybe we can then make sense of things together!
I really love your own blog, and your latest piece is fabulous! Isn’t it wonderful that we can share our experiences via social media for the benefit of others?
Wishing you well on your own ‘journey’ and so lovely of you to stop off here! We look forward to welcoming you back soon, Chris
My life has been touched by pancreatic cancer. My beloved cousin has been battling this demon for a year and half. He and his wife, who has been his steadfast rock through this war, have inspired me to tears. David, my cousin, has shown tremendous courage, deep faith, concern for others rather than himself and the will to continue living although he copes with immense pain. Although he is surrounded by loving family and friends, I worry that he might feel a sense of loneliness and isolation. Could anyone address my concern?
I’m very sorry to hear this story Anne, but is one of the reasons that this blog exists. Generally people affected by cancer do have a feeling of isolation, as it is ultimately them that are dealing with their issues. Supportive family and friends is certainly a positive thing, but they cannot do the tough stuff.
Of course everyone is different, and there are no rules where cancer is concerned, which is what makes it difficult. Some people like to talk, and others don’t. It can be difficult to open up to family. If for example you are feeling negatively about things, you may not want to communicate that.
Social media plays a big part in cancer support now, as patients communicate in their preferred method. It can be anonymous or not, and you can go on at whatever time suits you.
You have taken a really positive step by asking this question and I hope I can help. I have your email if you would like me to contact you further Anne. Please let me know