My life as a patient with cancer was one of the most challenging experiences I have confronted. And yet, looking back over the years to the time when I was a patient with cancer, or even a “cancer fighter,” I would not change any aspect of that journey. However, as I reflect on my experience as a cancer survivor, I admit that having cancer was harder than I had thought it would be.
After my diagnosis, I tried to concentrate on the treatment and my well-being. I meditated and read spiritual and self-help books, some of them written by cancer survivors. I repeated my mantra to myself, “If I survive this, I will do everything that I had always wanted to do.”
I convinced myself that I would be even more brave, and made a promise that I would become whoever I wanted to be. Although I had accomplished several of the goals I had set for myself before my diagnosis, many dreams and hopes remained on the horizon that needed fulfillment. I was a young adult at the time of my diagnosis, and I had many aspirations.
No Road Map
As a cancer survivor, I have found that there is no manual or guide that offers a road map on what I am supposed to feel, or how I should act, once I heard these words from my oncologist, “You are cancer free.”
I immediately began to work on fulfilling some of my unrealized dreams. I moved to New York City, which was not easy, but I persevered and did it. I also made the decision to immerse myself fully in life.
Slowly, everything moved forward, and I was able to secure employment. I also continued to write. Doors often opened for me without, at times, having to think about it. My partner was also helping me a lot, and I was surrounded by great people. After some time, my life and routine appeared “normal.” I adjusted and was living my “new life” as a cancer survivor.
A New Normal
Although my life was beginning to acquire some normalcy about it, there were still questions that lingered in my mind. At times I asked questions such as, “Who am I?” “Who was I before my diagnosis?” “Where am I supposed to go?” “Is this path that I am walking on the right one for me?” “Am I happy?”
While I was undergoing cancer treatment, I felt I knew exactly what I wanted. As a cancer survivor, I gained new strength. I worked hard and engaged in everything that was in my power, so that I could arrive to where I wanted to be.
Yet, living life as a cancer survivor can create feelings of uncertainty and angst. Sometimes as a survivor, I forget how difficult it was for me to continue living and fighting. I survived, and now my life, and the way I perceive myself and those around me, all seem normal and natural. The reality, however, remains that I could have died. I sometimes discover that I become lost in this new normal, and experience moments of darkness and negativity.
Life, I suppose, has to be what we call “normal.” Yet this sense of normalcy is different for everyone, which perhaps is something we cannot avoid. Routines help to maintain some sort of structure and organization in our lives.
Living in the Present
I believe that there will be times of darkness and incertitude in our lives, and it is alright if we don’t always experience moments of gratitude. What matters most is our integrity, and a commitment to remain true to ourselves.
It can be helpful to recall and reflect back to the time when we were diagnosed with cancer, which can give us perspective about living in the present. As patients, we learned to “fight” while undergoing treatment, so we would stay alive, because giving up in many instances could mean dying.
We often gain strength from our experience(s). It is my belief that when we are able to live in the present moment, we experience life more intensely and passionately. All our senses—smell, hearing, sight, touch, and taste—open wide. We thereby allow life to “feel” and “touch” us, and, in return, we experience life more fully.
It is important not to let life pass us by. If life does not always proceed in the direction you wish it to go, try not to blame yourself.
There are lessons we have learned as cancer survivors. We are the protagonist in our lives. But this requires our openness simultaneously to join and become one with the movement and the flow of life itself.
As I sit here, composing this reflection, I have never experienced the power of the “here and now” more intensely than at this moment. And I feel more present and happier than ever.