Find What Works For You

by Rachel MihalkoSurvivor, Hodgkin's LymphomaJune 29, 2020View more posts from Rachel Mihalko

Well, here’s an update for your lovely people since my last piece: I bought some books. 

I know, I said it would happen, and it happened a lot sooner than I thought. And guess what? I’ve actually started reading one of them, if you can believe it! It’s called No Happy Endings by Nora McInerny. Nora lost her husband to brain cancer while they were both in their thirties, and through her memoir she shares her pain, grief, and healing, but most importantly she shares the message that we are always a work in progress. While a story may have a beginning, middle, and end, we will live our lives mostly in the middle.

Wow. What a reflection of what I wrote last week. Amazing timing for me to dive into something like this. I’ve cried and laughed my way through every chapter so far, because Nora is so raw but also so very comical. 

Each night this week, I have settled in bed at the end of the day to make it through a chapter or two. I spend my days looking forward to this, which is a concept that speaks volumes of how far I have come. 

When treatment ended, I no longer had anything to look forward to. I was done with chemo and radiation, and I was left wondering what could possibly be next for me? It was this huge buildup of fighting for so long, and then, suddenly, it was over. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I had taken medical leave for a semester of school to do treatment, and I had about two months left before returning to school. I was diagnosed in early summer, then finished treatment in late November. Spring semester didn’t start until February for my school, and I was left purposeless for those two long months. 

In one sense, I was free to do as much reading, writing, and Netflix watching as I wanted. But over the last six months, I had grown tired of Netflix, and I didn’t have the energy to read or write. I would go to one of my favorite local coffee shops and try to sit there and do something productive, but there was only so much I could do with my time. If I didn’t feel like reading, I could journal. But I definitely didn’t want to journal in a public place, because it was inevitable that I would burst into tears contemplating the weight of everything I had been through. 

So, I would frequent coffee shops, twiddling my thumbs for hours. And if I wasn’t doing that, I was lying in bed wondering what the hell was left for me in life. I was 19 and had already been through cancer. If things were this bad so early in life, I couldn’t imagine what the future held for me. 

I found myself trapped in a pit of despair, with no way out. My world was spinning, and I didn’t know how to make things slow down. I needed time to process everything. I needed people around me who understood. 

Those people were far and few between at the time. 

Today, I’ve connected with other AYAs. While my world is spinning a lot less now than it was then, I didn’t realize how much I still needed that community, regardless. I needed books by people like Nora who have seen the dark world that the presence of cancer creates in your life. I needed the group of Happy Hour pals that join in on Zoom here at Elephants and Tea every Friday. 

I didn’t have what I needed at the time that I needed it the most. And I felt so very alone in this thing called survivorship. Certainly there aren’t people dealing with constant anxiety and depression post cancer, I thought. Or people who can no longer get out of bed in the morning because life has just gotten so damn hard to live post cancer. 

But there are. There are people who get it. People who have actually been there. Caregivers like Nora who have shared their story in print and survivors like those on Happy Hour who have struggled just as much as I have. 

It still hits me all over again sometimes. The fact that I had cancer. But the difference is, now I have people to turn to who feel the same way. People who are actually close to my age and have had a port, been administered chemo, gotten radiation. I might be the quietest person on those Zoom calls, but it still makes such a big impact on me. 

And I have a feeling that I’m not alone in that, either. 

So read books that make you feel understood. Listen to podcasts where people talk about the shit life has thrown at them. And join support groups like our virtual Happy Hour (I swear this isn’t just an ad for Happy Hour, I just love it that much. But anyway, here’s the link to sign up). 

Find your space where you feel heard and understood, regardless of what that looks like. Even if it’s simply journaling regularly; that is something that can go a long way.

Find what works for you. Whatever that thing is.

 


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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