PCSD (Post Cancer Stress Disorder) Is there such a thing?…. Sh*t yes! Perhaps I will coin a new phrase for the ohh so familiar and relatable feelings that anyone who has been through a long and drawn-out, painful, life changing, eye opening life experience or illness may feel once the dust settles. These feelings kind of sneak up on you, almost as if out of nowhere. At least that has been the case for me. I’ve been feeling so off for the past couple of months and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I spent my first holiday season in 4 years out of the hospital, so that was the biggest blessing and holiday gift EVER…But I still didn’t feel quite like myself. I felt guilty for not being more excited, or as excited as I anticipated being. I felt checked out and anti-social which is so not my typical personality. And being that I spent my holidays on the East Coast where the low temperatures were very extreme, I had plenty of time to sit on my ass and ponder. And slowly, the catalyst to these weird feelings started to reveal itself to me.
It’s not easy to put into words but here goes my best (hopefully ascertainable) analogy:
Imagine a historically huge, life-threatening storm hits your hometown, and this storm is long, enduring, relentless. Experts predict that chances are, you may not come out alive… nevertheless you are determined to survive. You brace yourself and hold on tight but continuously get knocked down over and over, yet you somehow manage to keep rising to your feet. You even have a couple of really close calls but by the grace of God you pull through and manage to hang on by a thread. You lose a lot of your possessions, sustain multiple injuries and even watch close neighbors die, but you keep riding the eye of the storm, determined. Then just when you feel like the storm may never end, FINALLY….it ends abruplty and there is a sudden calmness and peace. Total chaos ceases. But you’ve been in survival mode for so long, you don’t know how to be and how to adjust so quickly to the new state of “normality.” This shift is so sudden and everything is so damn confusing.
So much changed during the storm. Life went on in the world around you but you were so focused on staying alive, you kind of lost touch with reality. So there you stand, scarred and battered, staring at the debris and accessing all of the damage that has been caused, yet grateful to have made it out alive. You look in the mirror and almost don’t recognize yourself. It takes some time to wrap your head around everything that happened (an almost 7 year storm in my case), but you realize you must begin picking up the pieces, clean up the mess and start your new life.
As corny as that metaphor may or may not sound, this is where I stand. Reality has hit me dead in the face like a ton of bricks and first and foremost, I need to get this off of my chest, I’M. TIRED. My body has been through total havoc, so much that it seems surreal to even recap. Surgeries, chemotherapies (and a plethora of kinds), hormonal therapies and injections, all kinds of drugs that I would bore you with if I dare listed, drains, lung taps, and every alternative therapy you have probably heard of, death scares… the list seems never ending. But I somehow did what everyone thought to be impossible, and my body, as tattered as it may seem to me, carried me through. I couldn’t have had a stronger, more miraculous vessel and I am eternally grateful for it.
Now everone wants to know, How did you do it? How did you manage to survive?
Truth be told, I have been asking myself the same question over and over again lately. How did I survive? What did I take or what did I do to turn the ship around, to essentially stop the cancer in it’s tracks? When people email and ask, I share the laundry list of things that I did, the remedies I took and the books I read, but truthfully, I don’t really know which of those saved my life. I believe that each and every one of them played an essential role: the new breakthough drugs, the Chinese herbs, the cannibis oil and so on. They were and still are all of the tools that got me to this place of freedom from cancer, but to me they were just that, tools. I undoubtedly believe that it was my faith and belief, my knowingness that I could and would beat this. It’s the only difinitive and most logical explanation. FAITH saved my life. This is hard to convey to people and I try to put it into words as best as I can but I know that my refusal to accept mans’ prognosis and my enduring faith, as cliche as it sounds, is what got me to this very point in time. The mind is the most powerful tool we have and I now KNOW this to be so very true.
Anyhow, I digress. My point in sharing all of this is to say that I indeed have been suffering from PCSD. And now being on the other side of this, I feel like a fish out of water. I’m learning day by day how to adapt to this new me. I spend a lot of my free time trying to help others and I do so because I want to. I love helping others…I mean what better purpose?. I feel it is my calling to help other young women brace and endure the storm so they too can survive. But right now, I have been really resonating with this whole self care movement. I need some “me time”…time to process, time to wrap my head around the past 7 years and I need time to pick up the peices and move on and rebuild.
To make matters more difficult, a lot of women who I have bonded with on this journey have passed recently. There has been a lot of loss in the breast cancer community and this has been a trigger for me, bringing up old fears and feelings that quite frankly I didn’t have time to deal with or process when I was in full force survuval mode. And although I am physically healed, I realize I still have mental and spiritual healing to do. I want to heal in all capacities and be whole for me first and foremost. And in all fairness, be in a better state to better help others.
When I look in the mirror, I don’t see the old me….and that’s ok. I will never be the old me, but I have made a commitment and promise to myself to love myself like never before. I want to nourish myself, mind body and spirit so that I can be whole again, or perhaps whole for the first time ever. Or maybe we are all already whole, and I am now allowing myself the time and space to feel whole at a deeper level. In short, this year is about reclaiming myself physically and emotionally and I am taking the necessary time to do so. I owe it to myself. I think a common trait among those with cancer is that we have a tendency to put others before ourselves. I know that has been the constant theme of my life. I like to make others happy often times at the expense of my own happiness.
I have learned that neglecting myself made me very sick and I don’t ever want to go down that path again.
On a brighter note, I have some very exciting life changes ahead so I am giving myslf permission to focus on me, focus on the new life I am excited to build. I will share and update shortly but at this point in time I am taking some time to reclaim and rebuild. I am sure many of you who have been through a long battle with cancer or any long and drawn out tragedy can relate. And for the first time ever, I am allowing myself to do what I need to do to and putting my needs first. I have never been good at this and it certainly is taking some practice. In the meantime, please forgive me if I don’t email back right away or respond to messages on social media. I am not ignoring anyone and I will reply shortly. I just need a little time. I’m doing what I need to do right now so I can be a better me…for myself and for you.
“Self care is so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brown