I spent all of last week at what I affectionally call "Colon Camp." Part of my role with The Colon Club involves writing the bios of young colon cancer survivors who become models for The Colondar, a calendar featuring 12 men and women who've been diagnosed with colon cancer "way too young."
There's a portion of the experience that is exactly what you'd expect -- a photo shoot for a calendar. But every year, something magical inevitably happens. The week becomes so much more than a photo shoot. It becomes a critical piece to the emotional journey of cancer.
Fighting Cancer Emotionally
Over the past decade of survivorship, I've experienced a major shift in how healthcare practitioners handle, and sometimes treat, patients' emotions when it comes to cancer. A few years ago, I was only asked if I experienced pain, had fallen lately or was peeing OK. But nowadays, nurses tag on "How are you emotionally handling everything?" after their long list of questions.
I'll go ahead and be the first to admit that I've not quickly or readily addressed the emotional aspects of cancer. Sometimes I blame it on the fact I was a teenager when initially diagnosed -- I had other things on my mind.
But I've found that no matter what age you are, it will eventually hit you. Whether you're 17 or 77 -- facing your own mortality isn't easy. And it's quite the burden to carry on top of the "I feel sick from chemo" or the "I'm terrified my scan will come back showing something's wrong" days.
Finding Emotional Support
Despite the difficulty in confessing you're feeling sad, angry and mad (I mean, a survivor is strong!), intense emotional healing often lies on the other side of such acknowledgements.
I, by no means, am an expert when it comes to this -- as my counselor gently put it, I can become "emotionally unattached" quite easily. But after another opportunity to experience "Colon Camp" last week and recognizing how far I've come, I wanted to share some experiences that have helped me fight the emotional cancer battle.
Here are my top 10:
- Professional Counseling Let's just start it off big. After diagnosed a second time, I needed help processing my fears. A wonderful woman named Barbara helped me get back on my feet.
- Leaning on a Few Close Friends
- Accepting Help
- Learning The Power of "No"
- Find a Support Group
- Digging into Faith
- Being Angry
- Assembling Go-To Encouragement
I started my personal blog to process everything that happened to me. Finding a way to "get it out" creatively has helped my journey.
Having a handful of close buddies who I can be 100 percent transparent with has changed my entire journey. They're who can handle my lowest of lows, and who help me up when I'm ready.
My survivor mentality wants to accept zero support and assistance. I want to do as much as I can. But the moments I've accepted help have been some of the moments I've received the space to emotionally process the disease.
After my second diagnosis, I quickly volunteered to serve on a committee for a large cancer fundraiser. After having several tasks come my way, I soon flaked out. It was too soon and too much. I've learned there's nothing wrong with sharing your story, helping other survivors, participating in the cancer run/walks, etc. -- but there's also a time and a place. Make sure you have something to give before you start pouring out.
Finding other survivors and caregivers through a supportive network tremendously helped my journey. It kicked off with The Colon Club. I've since been involved in a few other groups. Support groups may initially seem like they're for the weak -- but after one visit you'll see they are one of the best ways to make you strong.
Cancer makes you face mortality and think about what you believe. Diving into my faith has provided me strength and answers when nothing else made sense.
Walking, running, kickboxing, spinning -- I've tried it all. Getting my body moving helps me feel better, clear my mind and reduce stress.
At first, I tried not to be angry. But when I let myself admit anger, I quickly came to a healthier place and saw through a positive lens. I just needed to let it out.
But I can always pull out a box of cards, gifts, emails and other encouragements that have come my way over the past 12 years that remind me to keep my head up, carry on the fight and remember I am loved.