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Life after cancer. What does that really mean?

Does it mean we go back to the “old” us? Or does it mean that we go on to live a hollow existence, haunted by the treacherous journey we endured?

I can’t tell you what’s right or wrong, but my hope for you beautiful souls is that it is somewhere in the middle. That we all go on to live a beautiful, healthy and happy life despite the mountains we’ve climbed. That we are able to integrate into our “new normal” in a way that is meaningful and brings us joy.

As a cancer survivor, one thing I’ve noticed is that most people really want to believe in a fairy tale ending. They want a start, a middle and most importantly, the clear end. They want to move on and know that the past is in the past and that we will live happily ever after. Have you felt this same expectation from your family, friends and coworkers?

We get all of this support up front with our diagnosis, but for many of us, our treatment goes on. Our treatment goes on and those supporters dwindle, maybe coming back around to celebrate being “done.” Yet many of us will live on with constant reminders of our battles - scars, medications, side effects, follow ups, anxiety, depression, you name it.

It can feel so lonely after the brunt of the battle is over. Who can we talk to about what we just went through? What we still go through? How can we go back to being the “old us” when so much has changed? How do we bring up this topic of conversation with our dear family and friends? What does life after cancer really mean?

I am one of those people for which my cancer story doesn’t end neatly packaged with a nice bow. Although my cancer is stable and not a current threat, it looms. I have frequent follow up scans, I have daily side effects, I have the worry and anxiety that it may return. The way I see it, I had two choices after my cancer diagnosis: I could submit to this cancer taking over everything, or do everything in my power to live my best life. I chose the latter.

To me, life after cancer isn’t about appeasing society and pretending that everything is okay. It also isn’t about closing this chapter forever and living out some Disney fairytale. It is about figuring out how I can both express my emotions and process the past and present while also making my current health and happiness a priority. One of the most therapeutic, open and honest ways I have found to do so is through sharing my authentic story.

Sharing my cancer journey, my emotions, the good days, the bad days and everything in between is not something I did outright. One day as I prepared for my second surgery brought on by thyroid cancer, I was challenged by some friends to share what I was going through. And not just the fluffy stuff - the nitty gritty details.

“What if this time you shared your story?” they said. “What if, this time, you made videos talking about what you went through before, during and after your surgery?”

I was appalled at first. This would be so personal! So embarrassing! No one would want to listen to something like this! It would be so depressing! That was my fear talking.

Thankfully, I respected these two friends very much and thought to myself, what if? What if I could use my story to inspire instead of wallowing in self pity? What if instead of binge watching Netflix in the fetal position like after my first surgery, I was inspired through videos after my second one? What if people did want to listen? What if I could change the way people thought and interacted with people going through battles with cancer? And so began my adventure in sharing my story and bringing awareness to the thoughts and feelings of a young adult battling cancer during and after that first “big event.”

And you know what? People listened. People loved hearing updates. I received more love and support than I ever had with my original diagnosis, first surgery or radiation treatment. People are more aware of what I go through and that I still deal with side effects and have hard days. All of this came from a willingness to share and unwillingness to put on the front of perfection and being “normal” after one of the biggest battles of my life.

Now, I am not suggesting each one of you run off to start a video blog. Each person will cope differently and find different ways to share their feelings and stories. What I am suggesting is that every one of you share your story in some capacity. Get your story out there in some way that feels authentic to you. Don’t let society’s need for a happy ending make you feel like you have to either be miserable on your own or pretending to be perfect. You are not alone and your story should be heard. Your story could inspire more people than you ever thought possible.

Here at Life After Cancer, we invite you to a place where you can start sharing your story. This is a safe space where you can begin to talk about the not-so-glamorous parts of your story that you may have been holding back. This space is where you can truly be yourself and begin to experience the therapeutic benefit that comes with voicing your story and connecting with other people who truly understand what you’re going through. We don’t want the Disney story, we want the real you.

By sharing your story authentically, I hope that you will begin to see more clearly what life after cancer truly looks like for you. Get out there and get your voice heard, the real voice. You are so worth it.

 - Bri Edwards

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