I promised you I would be as honest and raw as I can be. I am confident many will read this and start to question themselves so I want to preface this with telling you, I am not seeking your guilt or a random apology. I am also going to tell you that I don't fault you for anything I am about to say. I don't expect you to know any better, until you read this. What I do know, is that I am 100% confident I am speaking up for so many women right now, and for that alone, it makes this worth every word.
I've been called self centered, by a close family member, during a very vulnerable time in my journey. Through all of the self growth I have done, I have tried to figure out in what world of hers, she would consider me self centered. Per the definition, I am certainly not pre-occupied with myself. In fact, I have always put others first. I have never enjoyed being the center of attention or to have the focus of anything be solely on me. I finally came to the conclusion that she just simply doesn’t know me - nor has she truly taken the time to get to know me. I didn't ask for this cancer the first time, and I certainly didn't ask for it the 2nd. The last thing I ever wanted was for my husband of 2 years to be feeding me, to be draining tubes coming out of my breasts, or to shower me while I stood there in complete humiliation. If thats what one would consider "self-centered" or being “pre-occupied with myself", then I guess I fall right in to that category. For the record, I am very aware of how inaccurate that statement is and I don’t, for one second, believe that to be a characteristic I embody.
There are so many unseen angles of a cancer diagnosis, whether it be from a caregiver, a friend, or the patient. I can only speak from my angle as a patient and I don't expect a caregiver or friend, no matter how close or not, to understand fully what I am about to say.
Sharing thee pictures below is hard. It’s hard to look back at those eyes. The drug-filled, fentanyl, Vicodin, Tylenol, chemo-eyes that didn't have a clue what was going on around me. I can only imagine how hard it was for others to look at me like this. As for me, at the time, I don’t think I even realized what I looked like. I was just doing my best to breathe and stay alive. My friends would visit me, force me to laugh, send me cards, drop things off at my doorstep, check in on me...all of it. While overwhelming at times, it meant a lot to me, and not because I am "self-centered,” but because when I felt like my world was falling apart, I was reminded I was still loved. All of those sweet gestures, were exactly what I needed at the moment.
Then one day, I “appeared” healthy, and POOF, many were gone. So I ask the question: Did you forget about me?
I say "me" but I am referring to anyone who has had cancer or who is battling a stage iv diagnosis. Where did you go? There is such a dramatic drop off when someone seems well. It leaves us feeling isolated, not good enough—like we did something wrong. At the time we appeared sick, you were there ALL of the time, but when we appeared well again, you were gone. Was our friendship only important when we appeared ill? No one is expecting dinner to be dropped off at our doors, or the many other amazing blessings given during our extreme time of need to continue. In fact, it is an extremely humbling experience to have to ask for help when we are already feeling like such a burden to everyone, but where did that friendship go? We think about how special those people are to us, how they showed up during a time of need, a time of extreme vulnerability, sat next to us, how much it meant, and how much they must care to go out of their way to support and love us at our worst; we begin to love and care for them back and they become a special part of our journey to healing. Maybe we even make a new friend or form new, deeper relationships.
Then it happens. We appear healthy again, as if our lives are back to "normal" but "normal" is no longer a term we understand. You disappear. Just like that, we feel a sense of abandonment, like we lost a friend. Maybe we feel like we were such a burden during our time of illness, and you've given all you can give to the friendship in that moment. I guess thats understandable and I believe every moment in life serves a specific purpose. The choice or action to disconnect, isn't one I will ever understand being in my circumstances, and I know I speak for others when I say WE don't understand it. That being said, I give grace to our co-survivors and friends. In fact, I am genuinely happy you don't understand what I am feeling. I hope you never do. I am not mad at you for this either. I do, however, know this is a topic that comes up more frequently than anything else, and for that reason, I am sharing my thoughts and speaking up for those who hold them inside.
Regardless of the appearance you made during my time of need, I am thankful for you. Whether it be dropping off a meal, a gift basket, or sitting by my side... you mean something to me. I haven't forgotten you. I don't necessarily think you have "forgotten" about me either. I just want there to be an understanding of the dramatic change we may experience in being surrounded with so much love when we appear ill, to then feeling that sense of abandonment, and how that might affect us mentally—it’s not a matter of attention or being self-centered. It's who we become after a cancer diagnosis. We change. Relationships become special to us. Who we let in during this time, is a big deal to us. We feel the internal change and it sometimes makes us question if the change we go through is one that you don't want to be a part of, or one that might be too much of a burden for you. While we are working on discovering who we are, we are also processing who you want to be in our lives, or who you were for that matter. Will you still be there? Will you only come around when I look sick? Am I only worth messaging when the news is bad? Will you be there to celebrate my triumphs AND my tragedies? Will you love me as I heal? Can you love the new person I have become?
No matter what capacity you choose to be there for me, know that I appreciate you. Know that I wont forget that gesture regardless of the size. You mean something to me.
If you are a caregiver, co-survivor, friend, or even an acquaintance, I encourage you to reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Tell them you still love them. Tell them you are still there for them. Love them THROUGH it all not just in the moment. Don’t allow things to go unsaid or the possible guilt you may feel from not reaching out in awhile, hold you back from checking in or sending that card. It means something. It means more than you could even comprehend. It's not because we need or crave the attention. Attention is the exact opposite of what most of us want. For me, I just want to know that our friendship means as much to you, as it means to me. It's that simple.
Cancer is a lifelong battle, even more so for those of us with Metastatic Cancer. It's never going to go away. I will live with this for the rest of my life. I cherish my time with you. I cherish our memories.
Speaking on behalf of many Warriors, I just ask that you please not forget the journey we have been through. Give us grace. Continue to be there for us. You mean something and we wont ever forget the special place you had in our lives - please don't forget us.
I’ve thought about writing this blog for quite some time now. Since my re-diagnosis almost exactly 2 years ago, I’ve changed – I’ve grown. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out who I truly am, how impactful my words can be, how important it is to always let those I love, know how I am feeling. I’ve learned to share my feelings from a place of love and have been very conscious about voicing that love alongside my feelings. With every hit that cancer gives me, I learn something new about myself. I believe it’s an intentional poke from God encouraging me to be authentic, encouraging me keep growing spiritually and emotionally, sharing parts of this journey that while hard, important for others to understand the challenges of a stage iv cancer diagnosis.
So here it is.
Every time a scan comes back with bad news, I face my mortality. Every time I face that mortality again, it gets scarier and feels closer. There I said it. Maybe you don’t want to hear that. Maybe that’s hard to read, however, someone needs to say it. You know that feeling you get when you almost got hit by that semi, or you almost drowned but didn’t, that near death but didn’t happen experience? Yah, that’s what it feels like, but worse, because it doesn’t go away. You don’t just forget about it, be grateful the semi didn’t actually hit you, and move on with your day. The semi just keeps hitting you. Every single day, the semi hits and the battle in my head begins. Jen, you have today. Jen, be present. Jen, be positive. Jen, get out of bed and go do something to keep your mind off of the semi. It’s a constant battle. If I don’t remain positive, I feel guilty but if I don’t allow myself to feel, I feel guilty. I am finding that balance and discovering who I feel comfortable sharing those dark moments with. I am learning to be authentic in a way that is comfortable for me, not for anyone else. I am learning that it’s just as important to forgive myself as it is for me to forgive others.
Forgiveness is a gift you give to you. Read that again.
Do you not realize that we are all in danger of that semi hitting? Though hard, I remind myself of this pretty regularly. Maybe my semi looks a looks a little different than yours, but at the end of day, one day, we are all going to be hit by a semi. One day, we are all going to face our mortality. Do you want to leave this world with things left unsaid? Do you want someone else to leave this world without saying something you wish you could have said? I don’t. I am not sure anyone does.
I vision this as another “gift” I have been given. I can change anything I want to change, right now. I can forgive whomever I want to forgive, right now. I can say whatever I want to say, right now. I can have deep conversations with people, share my feelings, tell them I love them, make and cherish every single moment I have with them. I get to give myself that gift. I get to give others that gift. I have the privilege - THE PRIVILEGE - of living a life that is FULL! A life that checks off boxes most don’t get the chance to check off because the semi hit without warning.
“The trouble is, you think you have time” Buddah
I have struggled with sharing these thoughts because I don’t want those close to me, or those who follow my journey to think my time is coming to an end. I most certainly don’t want to worry or scare the people I love most. I don’t want to put anyone’s mind in a place that holds any negativity towards my journey. If you are reading this, I want you to fill that space you hold for me with only positivity and prayers.
I share these thoughts because since I began this blog over 6 years ago, I have shared the raw and honest truth behind my diagnosis. There will be more of these to come, some not so happy, and some filled with inspiration and hope. The one thing I can promise you, is that it will be my honest truth, my honest challenges, my victories, and my authentic feelings. My mission from day one has always been the hope that no one would ever feel as alone as I did when I was originally diagnosed in 2013. I know my truth can be someone else’s hope. I know my voice can, and will, help someone. My journey, and what I choose to share, while uncomfortable at times, may be exactly what someone else needs to hear or share, because they are too afraid to say it. It may be exactly what someone else needs, so they know they aren’t walking that path alone.
This is what feeds my soul. This is what gives me purpose and defines who I am. Cancer has never and will never define me.
I cannot change what has happened in my life – neither can you. It will have always happened to you no matter how badly you might want to forget that it did. The defining moment will come in deciding if you want to allow it to break you down or build you up. I hope you always choose to let it build you up, to discover the strength that it gave you, the purpose behind it all, and to acknowledge the ways it made you a better person. That, in my opinion, is the greatest gift you can give to you.