Opening up to others can be hard, but many patients with cancer find solace and unexpected benefits by sharing their stories. Although some people may hesitate to reveal such a personal and vulnerable part of their life at first, those who have summoned the courage to speak up and reach out to others who have a similar condition gave themselves the opportunity to achieve a transformation in their overall well-being.
As a model and actress, 32-year-old Rachelle struggled with accepting and telling people about her condition. She never expected to receive such a diagnosis, especially because she considered herself to be very healthy. “There’s nothing that I did that could have caused cancer. I was just in complete shock,” she said.
Rachelle was diagnosed with advanced (stage IV) follicular non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is quite rare for a woman her age. It was difficult for Rachelle to speak up about her illness, especially outside her circle of close friends and family members. What helped her was the chance to share her story through an online support group. “That was the single greatest thing I did during my cancer experience. I didn’t feel alone,” she said.
When patients with cancer share their story, it often reminds them that there are others who are going through a similar experience. It promotes connection with other people who have cancer, and uplifts the sharer and the listener.
Physical health is associated with mental and spiritual health. Although it may seem that your personal struggles are not everybody’s business, the act of opening up allows you to release pent-up emotions, stress, anger, and other negative energy caused by the ordeal. As you let go of this emotional baggage, you can begin to acknowledge your situation more easily and improve the quality of your life.
Sharing your story also allows you to accept the parts of you that may be difficult to accept, and this can help you let go of the fear and the many ways it can affect you in a negative manner. When you stop allowing your circumstances to control how you feel, it may help to promote healing and give you a new sense of purpose. By contrast, your struggles and how you overcome them also give others the encouragement to stay strong and resilient amidst a Herculean battle.
In the case of a renowned physician, Dr Kalanithi, who was diagnosed with metastatic, stage IV lung cancer, the irony of his situation was hard to face, and the demands of his profession were difficult to give up. So he ignored his symptoms until he could no longer stay on top of his work. He wrote a memoir, “When Breath Becomes Air,” which documented his experience and showed how facing death changed his priorities. He used his illness to answer his own existential questions and help inspire others in the process. His memoir was published after he passed away.
As Winston Churchill said, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” Sharing your experience enables you to look at your circumstance in a new light, become an observer rather than a victim, and use the challenge as a source for strength. Dr Kalanithi’s choice to write about his battle with cancer allowed him to step away from his agony. He used that experience to seek his own truth and understanding of mortality, and share the wisdom brought about by his personal challenges.
Sharing through storytelling allows you to express yourself and aids in gaining a better understanding of what you’re going through, or went through, and how that experience might have transformed you. The act of telling your story also allows you to see that you are the author of your own life, regardless of the cards you are dealt, and that it is your choices and reactions to what happens that can affect the outcome, not only the circumstance. In effect, storytelling also helps reaffirm what is important to you, and at times even leads to a discovery of what you truly value in life.
Overall, when you share your cancer experience, be it through online forums and support groups, mentoring other patients with cancer, or even turning it into a form of art or literature, it allows you to tap into your creative resources and transform your experience into a driving force to make something better out of it.
There’s a saying that goes, “Gaining knowledge is the first step to wisdom, sharing it is the first step to humanity.” When patients with cancer speak up about their experiences, they are affecting themselves, as well as other patients, their family and friends, and every person who comes across their stories. They provide a better understanding of how cancer affects one’s life, promoting empathy, as well as inspiration and motivation for overcoming any ordeal. The sense of belongingness and camaraderie gives us hope and strength to outlast the toughest challenge, no matter what that may be.