Listening to Folklore as a Cancer Survivor

by Rachel MihalkoSurvivor, Hodgkin's LymphomaAugust 3, 2020View more posts from Rachel Mihalko

If you haven’t heard the new Taylor Swift album yet, this is your friendly reminder to go check it out. I have to admit, since her style has shifted, I haven’t been following her super closely, but when she announced her new album’s release in the midst of quarantine, she had me hooked. 

Since I first listened to it, I’ve had the album on repeat. It is totally consuming my waking hours, so I thought I’d share some insight into some of my favorite songs and the powerful lyrics found within the album that I really connected to emotionally as a cancer survivor. 

Once I started pulling out lyrics, I ended up with a whopping fourteen that really stuck with me; however, that’s a few too many to cover right now. So, here is a shorter version of some of my favorites and the most poignant ones that I found a connection with as a survivor. 

Song: The 1 

“If you never bleed, you’re never gonna grow.” 

Wow. This is SUCH a good one to start with. There is so much to be said for suffering, and I have seen firsthand how people grow through suffering. I have countless friends, inside and outside of the cancer community, that have grown immensely through their pain. Wounds will eventually heal, and we can come back even stronger than before. 

Song: This is Me Trying

“I’ve been having a hard time adjusting / I had the shiniest wheels, now they’re rusting.” 

This is such a testament to the experience of being diagnosed as an AYA. It turns your world upside down and even after treatment is finished, you aren’t free of cancer. At a time in your life where you are supposed to be at your healthiest, you’re left with a life threatening illness that causes countless complications, either from the treatment at the time, or down the line. I’ve lived my life in fear of my lungs or heart giving out, or my thyroid depleting, all possible things that could happen from the treatment I had. And then there’s the possibility of a secondary cancer from the treatment, which feels like it’s always hanging over my head; I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’ve always been a cautious person, but I find myself being even more so these days because of the worry that plagues me. 

Song: Hoax 

“You knew it still hurts underneath my scars / from when they pulled me apart.”

My biopsy of my neck left me with a two inch scar. Although it has healed nicely, I still feel like it’s in a place where anyone can see it. At first, it felt like an obvious sign of what I was dealing with. However, I have grown more used to it with time. 

My biopsy and port scars still hurt sometimes. It’s been two years and two months since I was diagnosed, and although they have healed nicely, it’s still such a physical reminder of what I have been through. These days I will still feel them go numb or get itchy despite all of the time that has passed. Scars will always leave a trace of the hurt that was once there. 

Song: Mad Woman

“I’m taking my time, taking my time / ‘cause you took everything from me.” 

I could go on and on about the things that cancer has stolen from me. But, I find myself comparing this lyric specifically to the friendships that change throughout a cancer diagnosis. That is definitely something that cancer has taken from me. It has made me reevaluate who I let into my life. I strive to surround myself with people who will support me and people I know I can confide in. I search for those deeper relationships after going through some that did not have the depth that I wanted so badly. So now, I take my time getting to know people, and I try to remind myself of the change in perspective that cancer has given me, despite all that it has taken from me. 

Song: Peace

“And you know that I’d swing with you for the fences / sit with you in the trenches.”

This speaks to the friends that did stay. The ones who sat with you during chemo or took you out for ice cream when you had a day where you felt physically up to it. My hope is that I can be there for the people who were there for me. I want to sit in the trenches with them, because they were willing and able to do that for me. 

Song: Hoax 

“Stood on the cliffside screaming, ‘Give me a reason’”.

When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t know what to make of everything. I was angry and scared and didn’t know what life would look like going forward. I wanted so badly to know why I was going through this. I still want to know. That has been one of the hardest parts of this path. I have been left with these questions and don’t know what to do with them. 

I don’t know that I’ll ever get an answer to that question, which is so frustrating. Even though I have seen so much good come out of this experience, it can be hard to acknowledge that. I don’t want to admit that cancer led me to some of the great things in life that I have now. 

 

I love taking other people’s words and applying them to my own life. It makes me feel understood, even if the artist hasn’t been through what I have been through. Just hearing the words that create validation in my heart gives me hope. 

So, whose lyrics should I reflect on next?

 


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

  • Shirley Jobe says:

    Wow! Rachael, I’m so impressed with your courage and depth of insight. I am also a cancer survivor (bladder cancer which, ironically, most often occurs in smokers, which I am not) and even though I was twice your age when diagnosed, I experienced so many of the same emotions and asked the same questions, particularly the big one — WHY?? Why me? Why now? Now what?

    Now, 26 years later, I still occasionally wonder “when the other shoe will drop” – where, in my body, C will rear it’s ugly head next. But it’s not on my mind as often, not everyday. However, I NEVER miss any of my yearly screenings. The cystoscopy is the procedure I most love to hate. I hate it but wouldn’t miss it for the world!

    Now, at my advanced age, I have so many other issues to occupy my mind- Osteoprosis and bones that won’t heal, loss of balance, loss of hearing— the beat goes on and on and on. But, I’m so glad that you are finding, like I have, that
    Romans 8:28 is so true. “And we know that ALL things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose.” This is the day which the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice in it!

    Keep living to the fullest, loving each day, and doing this great work. I’m impressed, proud, and thankful for you!

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