2020: What Fresh Start?

by Lisa OrrSurvivor, Breast CancerJune 1, 2020View more posts from Lisa Orr

If I’m being completely honest, ‘survivor’ is still a term I struggle with. Something I often ask myself is: will I always feel this way? Is it hard for me to accept this term because the wounds are still so fresh? The mental battle that occurs within me daily is almost more difficult than the emotional and physical toll the nine months of treatment took.

Why?

Because I knew that we were actively fighting the beast during those nine months. We were doing everything we could to keep it at bay. I was being checked in on by medical professionals and checked in on by friends and family. 

These days, with the current state of the world due to COVID-19, I almost feel as though I have to beg to be seen by my doctors. My check-ins post treatment have been cancelled, my first scans after treatment have been delayed even longer than I originally wanted them to be. Every day there is something new that I am anxious about… a twinge in my left arm, a random pain when I take a deep breath, a ‘new’ lump I feel or has that been there my whole life? It is a daily struggle. A daily battle.

But you know what? I must remind myself that I can have, and will have, ‘normal’ health related issues for the rest of my life. Right now, I am here. Right now, I am breathing, and I get to see my boys grow, hug my loved ones (virtually, of course), and make plans for the future when life is “normal” again.

“Normal”. Another word I struggle with.

As a cancer survivor, there are a lot of things that I have come to realize may never feel normal again. I wish I could say that a day has gone by where I haven’t said the dreaded “C” word, or where it hasn’t crossed my mind in some way. Not only are there the physical tolls that cancer took, but the mental and emotional struggles feel more daunting most of the time. I have come to realize that the only thing we can do is take life one day at a time… which truly isn’t bad advice for anyone right now, cancer survivor or not. 

The current state of the world is oddly familiar feeling for a cancer patient and/or survivor. 2020 was supposed to be my fresh start, and instead it is a tornado of fear, anxiety, and trying to keep a level head for my kids. It is all feeling eerily recognizable to this exact time last year. It’s triggering. It gives me flashbacks to treatment days, feelings of frustration of having to isolate like I did when I was severely immunocompromised.

The only positive spin to it, as crazy as it is to say, is that I’m not alone in it this time. I’m not the only one who can’t go somewhere out of fear that someone may be sick. I’m not the only one who worries about something new pertaining to health every single day. The feeling that we truly are all in this together is comforting.

Both fighting cancer and embracing my survivorship have been different while raising my two kids. Not only am I responsible for my own physical and mental health, but every waking moment of my day is spent making sure my two little humans feel happy, safe, and loved. Do you know how difficult that is to do when you don’t always feel those sentiments yourself? It’s like an uphill battle.

The common saying “you can’t pour from an empty glass” rings so true… except sometimes it’s as if I am trying to pour into a gallon sized jug from a measuring teaspoon. The feeling is all consuming. Add in the constant worry of having a first-responder husband who continues to do his job during this scary time? Not the best combination for someone whose mental state is already hanging on by a frayed piece of dental floss.

How do I get past these feelings? By learning to trust my instincts.

I’ve learned so much about myself since January of 2019. Have I always had anxiety? Yes. Did cancer increase that anxiety tenfold? Yes. Is this global pandemic flaring it up again? Absolutely. Have I strangely gotten better at taking long, deep breaths and trying to judge whether or not to panic about something? Strangely, yes.

I am trying my best to live in the moment rather than focus on the fear of what may come. To focus on the things that I CAN control, rather than the things that are out of my hands. I am trying to not worry about things that I don’t have to yet. I am trying to quiet the demons in my mind and improve my mental health by reminding myself that I am, in fact, one of the lucky few that gets to call myself a survivor. 

There isn’t a course that helps explain life after cancer. There’s no guidebook telling you how to feel and how to go about your day-to-day, post-cancer life. No one tells you that survivorship will feel this way.

I think everyone assumes that treatment ends and *POOF* life is back to normal. I am here to tell you firsthand that that is not true. I am here to tell you that if you are also feeling this way, you are not alone. I am here to tell you that although these times are scary, we WILL get through them. Although this storm is stirring up so many familiar emotions, we will find our way out of it. Every step of this journey is teaching us something new about ourselves. Like we have already learned, coming out the other side of this crazy time will prove that we are stronger than we realized we were. It will prove that we will rise once again. It will prove that we have a lot more living left to do.  


All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at https://www.elephantsandtea.com/contact/submissions/.

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One Comment

  • Gina Sweeney says:

    Lisa, Thank you for writing this. Your words are exactly how I feel one year after my cancer. As hard as I try to put bad thoughts to rest, they somehow find their way back to the surface and keep me awake at night. Being much older than you my worries are still the same. I worry for grown children and my husband whom have all taken care of me. My illness was a drain on them too. And I worry that if this cancer returns I won’t be there for them, to enjoy retirement, to see my son and his wife grow together and my daughter to find a husband, marry and my grandchildren if they should have kids.. But, I’m strong like you. A little warrior in fact! My doctors were amazed at my strength and determination not to let this get me. And I’m too very lucky to call myself a cancer survivor. I’m determined to enjoy and appreciate more than ever the little things to the fullest.
    You’re right about the pandemic, it has squelched any thoughts of getting back to “normal”, this year. I kind of hate that word, normal, it’s lost all meaning to me. So, instead, I try real hard to just accept what is and go on, pushing bad thoughts out of my head and forcing myself to think of all that is good. And there’s plenty of good. Luckily my husband, kids and dear friends have helped me with my anxiety. And I’m not ashamed to say that I’m considerIng medication to help control my constant fears, because the stress is really affecting me physically and that’s not good.
    Lisa, you are a brave and beautiful young woman. You are doing so well and I am so happy for you and you’re beautiful family. Stay strong and keep writing, your words have helped me and many, I’m sure.❤️

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