Life Post-Cancer: Dealing with fear

Life works in mysterious ways. Today marks 3 months since I had my last chemotherapy session. Time goes by so quickly. I already have a full head of hair, my eyebrows have made a full appearance, my eyelashes are on the way and the numbness of my fingers and my toes has disappeared.

It’s been quite a journey to get here and I am still not fully recovered from everything my body has been through, but I am almost there. It’s been a few months of a lot of emotional healing, a lot of exercise and a lot of fear. I still have really bad joint pain but the more I exercise, the more I feel my bones get stronger and my muscles grow. I have decided to dedicate a lot of time to just doing the things that make me happy and make me feel good about myself. Through this, however, there has been the dark fear of a relapse. I read somewhere that having had cancer is like living with a gun pointed at you throughout your life and, as dramatic as that may sound, there is a lot of truth to it.

Cancer is not pretty. Chemotherapy made me see myself in a way I never, ever expected to. I dealt with months of not feeling like myself and it was a true mental battle to consistently remind myself that this is temporary and that it is going to make me stronger and I cannot let it bring me down. As I explained in my last post, post-cancer depression is very real and I am still coaching myself through it, taking my emotions in, acknowledging the process of recovery and, most importantly, dealing with a lot of fears. Based on all of these emotions, I had a truly beautiful, open and honest conversation with one of my closest friends this morning. I told him all my fears, I let a lot of it out and he gave me so much clarity on a lot of the confusion I was feeling. He reminded me that I don’t need to know “why” things happen but rather focus on the outcome, on what I can do to overcome it.

Today at around 7 p.m. I read about the relapse of a young woman who had survived lymphoma and had finished chemo a few weeks before me. My heart sank. The first thought in my mind was “what if that’s me?” and the second “I cannot possibly go through this again.” The fear is real. The thought of having to do everything I went through all over again can be paralyzing. It is devastating to think that this can happen when you have just started to rebuild yourself and your life after so much loss. I was upset, and it was at that moment when I had yet another conversation that brought back my sanity. I coincidentally met a survivor who noticed my port and waited for me to come back from my bathroom break to speak to me. It was as if she was reading my mind. She might not have realized the impact our conversation had on me at that moment, but she reminded me that there are people I can share my fears with and who will understand what I’m going through. She also reminded me of the changes I can make to take control over my life and not cave into the fears of life post-cancer.

I want to do more to spread awareness about, not only the prevention of cancer but also the mental and emotional impact that the disease and the treatment has on us. I am working on a few things and I am not going to give into the fear of failure or the fear of a relapse, or the many other fears get the best of me. In the past few months I have managed to rebuild a lot of my self-confidence, I managed to get promoted after going through the most difficult time of my life and to stay uplifted through a lot of hurt. Somedays, you just have to acknowledge how far you’ve come and pat yourself on the back for pulling through with some level of grace. I am doing that now. I am proud of me and of who I’ve become. This has not been easy, I still have a lot of work to do but I am proud and immensely grateful to everyone who has helped me get here – those who have been there listening, supporting and offering me nothing but love. Yet, most importantly, I am thankful to myself for making it this far. I will continue to share my fears – the good, bad and ugly – of my life in hopes that it will make a difference to someone, somewhere, just as much as it has helped me understand and love myself.

As one of my favorite quotes say:

“I will not thank you for this pain. I will not thank you for this destruction. But I thank you for this lesson: My demolition might not be on my hands, but my reconstruction is.” – Najwa Zebian.

Cover photo by Aqib Anwar – @gibsterg
Other photos by Farah Al Sharief – @1nc

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