Updated: Sep 5, 2019
Before going through treatment when I would think of cancer or chemotherapy I would think about the physical sickness. Losing hair, losing weight, not being able to eat and throwing up all the time. I thought how horrible it would be to be physically sick all the time or having to constantly be in hospitals. I’d even think about the giant financial burden that comes with it. What I didn’t think of was the mental pain and sickness. For me this was my real battle. A close friend of mine who is currently going through treatment said it perfectly. Treatment is “life compounded”. Even your regular, every day challenges become monumental.
When it came to physical symptoms and side effects I was very fortunate to be able to handle them well. This isn’t to say I didn’t have them and that they weren’t fucking torturous and extreme but they paled in comparison to the nightmare going on in my head. Because of the changes I made that allowed me to exercise people responded often by saying “I’m so happy this is going so easy for you”, as if the ability to jog means the rest of your life is ok. I would want to shake them. I would want to go into detail and tell them about my night before and what I went through. I would want to tell them that when I went to the bathroom 5 minutes before that I cried until I threw up but explaining that only seemed to drain me and hurt them.
I did not lose my hair and, even though I had lost over 30 lbs, if you did not know what I looked like before I started treatment you would not have thought that I was sick. With the changes to my diet, exercise, fasting, and much more I was able to keep myself looking fairly normal. I would smile and act happy because seeing someone else hurt because of my treatment would cause me so much pain that I hid it as best I could. I wanted treatment to end and I wanted to be healthy again but the only times I ever really prayed was to look more sick on the outside and, on my darkest nights, I would pray to not wake up. I didn’t want to die but I felt if I didn’t wake up that it would be such a relief. On those days when I would wake up the next morning I would immediately sob uncontrollably just because I knew I had to do it again.
I felt I had to keep up the image that everything was ok around other people for my own good. On the rare occasion I would actually explain what I was feeling to people I would see shock and horror in their face. Their reactions, even though they were understandable, left me feeling even more alone and broken. I understand now, as I did then, that this was not a good thing to hide what I was feeling. Under that amount of stress, pain and sickness it is very difficult to make the right decisions. It was simply self-preservation why I hid it.
I didn’t keep it all bottled up though. I was seeing two therapists during treatment. One was a more traditional therapist and the other was for EMDR. They were very beneficial for me and something I would recommend looking into if you are struggling mentally. Being connected with other young adults who were going through or had been through something similar was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever felt. Being able to feel comfortable being 100 percent honest and not have them respond with shock, horror or sympathy but just understanding was so healing. What I found was that I wasn’t alone during those dark times, I just couldn’t see that there were others there with me in the darkness.
I went through 4 stages of dealing with my diagnosis. First was just denial. I didn’t want to deal with the fact that I was sick and that my life was about to change so drastically. I would laugh and make jokes about it. When I was informing friends and family, I did it with the focus of making sure they knew I was ok. “So yeah, I am calling to say I got diagnosed with cancer BUT IT’S ALL GOOD! I’M OK! It will be over in no time”. I wouldn’t pay attention in my appointments and I would be making jokes with the nurses. I kept this defense mechanism up as long as I could.
As time went on and the treatment started to wreck my body and mind I could no longer deny the situation I was in. When I wasn’t able to deny it I went to trying to act tough. I thought I am a hairy chested, deep sea diver and I’m not scared of shit! Yeah this was tough and challenging but I did a job that I felt most people could not do. I saw guys that I thought were way tougher or more manly than me give up quick, time and time again. I thought I’m different and I’ll show everyone how tough I really am! This didn’t last long. I very quickly realized I was up against a new kind of monster.
My next method of dealing with it was anger. I would use my anger to fuel me. When I felt so weak or sick or overwhelmed I would tap into my anger and focus on it. I was fucking angry about everything. I was angry I was in this situation, I was angry I couldn’t be myself, I was angry I couldn’t go to work, and more than anything I was angry that I was feeling defeated. I was angry that I was losing my way of life. I would think about the doctors who said I had to give up responsibility and become a complete burden and it would create this burning fire within me. Anger is a powerful motivator but it takes away more than it gives over an extended time. It was helpful in certain situations but using it for everything was taking so much out of me.
Then one day the anger wasn’t enough. The treatment was getting harder, life felt overwhelming and it finally felt like it had broken me. I had made some little signs of progress during my anger stage and then it was if the bottom completely fell out from under me. I could no longer do it for myself and my mind was playing tricks on me that made me feel like others didn’t care about me either. Because I didn’t express how I felt and I didn’t show physical symptoms I wasn’t receiving the kind of support I really wanted. I just wanted everyone to acknowledge how I was really feeling but that was impossible without giving them some way of seeing it. Of course they knew it was hard and that I was struggling but not to the extent of how I was truly feeling. I knew there were so many who loved and supported me but I felt so alone.
What happened next is something I still don’t fully understand but am beginning to get some clarity on. It broke me. It broke me in every way imaginable. This is when I began praying to not wake up. It felt as if I was in a never-ending nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from. I was scared of myself and I wasn’t sure what I would do. It felt so terrifying to finally feel out of control and accept my situation. When I accepted it and became fully aware of what was going on something deep down inside of me came alive. I see it as purely a survival instinct that changed me on a cellular level. Today I believe what I was feeling was love.
I began to love myself for exactly how I was at that moment. I loved the people around me. I loved that I had insurance and the ability to receive treatment. I loved that I woke up and that I had another day to fight. Instead of feeling anger at my body for becoming sick I felt love that my body was able to withstand the cancer long enough for me to find it and fight this disease. Instead of being angry at what I lost I felt love for what I still had. Where as anger leaves you drained and weak, love felt never ending and empowering. The more love I used the more there seemed to be in it’s place. Love is the only thing I have found that is more powerful than what I was dealing with. By using love and focusing on love my whole perspective changed. Love was healing all those wounds, both physical and mental. No matter what the question was, love was the answer.