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Much more than a survivor

People often ask me if having had cancer made me appreciate my life more. And they also ask me what my biggest lessons have been.

Having been involved in personal growth since my early twenties, by the time I got cancer, I already had a solid inner sense of who I am, my purpose on the planet, my dark side and frailties, as well as my beauty, wisdom and strengths. I have an appreciation for living every day to the fullest. Knowing that my life is a gift and that we can all die in any moment has been a core part of who I am for a very long time.

The hardest part for me was not the cancer itself, nor the surgeries, the reconstruction, the chemo, or the hair loss. The hardest part was the way that people that I had considered good friends responded to me. I was truly shocked when I received strong judgments from people that I had considered close friends, as well as anger, fear, withdrawal, and some really crazy behavior. Many people judged me as ‘operating from fear’ saying that I was mutilating my body, and they couldn’t understand why I would get a PBM (preventative/prophylactic double mastectomy) rather than choose some alternative route. I had several people start friendship ending fights with me over other random issues. I had heard that cancer makes you realize who your friends really are, and this certainly proved true for me.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is another group of people who put those of us who have had cancer or who are at risk for getting cancer on a pedestal, and they make us somehow larger than life. These people also distanced themselves with assumptions and an unrealistic picture of who I am or what I was going through.

There is this cloud of fear and shame that surrounds the word ‘cancer’. People hear it and they simply freak out. They don’t even bother to find out what type of cancer it is or if it is curable or treatable; they just get weird. It is as if the person with cancer has leprosy, and it’s contagious.

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15 Year Anniversary – 3 weeks after my PBM

The magic of the whole experience however, was all of the people who came forward, both friends and strangers, to help, to offer support, to have compassion, and to offer services and suggestions. The way in which I experience my friendships has dramatically changed through this experience, in a positive, life affirming way.

I share this because I have heard similar stories from other people who have had a PBM or cancer. I have found myself supporting many people on this journey over the last few years. I have been a teacher and leader for most of my life, and I feel passionate about sharing what I have learned.

I am gratified to offer personal experiences, hope, possibility, and a positive outlook to others.

with blessings and love,

~~~Inspired Girl

9 Comments

    • Thanks Rayzel. Yes it is really great to talk about it, and have distance from it, and gain perspective with time, for sure!

  1. You are truly inspiring, Barbara. I agree that many people treat cancer as if it were contagious. I can only imagine how hurtful that must have made you feel. I lost my cousin 5 years ago to cancer. She embraced life, love and all of the joy possible until her final day. I miss her very much, but know that she was at a level of self love and understanding of who she was and what life was about, that it made it easier to let her go. She made it ok for all of us to accept and move on. Her spirit was much like yours.
    CARRIE STINE – REALTOR/GRI
    http://www.carriestine.com

    • Thanks Carrie, for the heartfelt acknowledgment 🙂 And it sounds like your cousin lived her life fully!

  2. Touching story, thank you for sharing. I experienced this kind of ‘friends falling away/others getting closer’ thing while I was dealing with my father’s terminal cancer a few years ago, though very different than what you directly went through. The whole process of losing him and letting go definitely changed my entire reality and me as a person at the core level like you say.
    from Maggie Y

  3. Thanks for writing about this. I have several things I could speak of that have been life altering but choose something that relates to your experience in some ways. Mine is an invisible illness. I have been in chronic pain for 28 yrs–originally caused by a spinal injury. I had a second spinal injury from a car accident. These led to degenerative discs, arthritis, pinched nerves, knotted muscles. Almost everyone I know has at one time or another either insinuated or flat out accused me of overreacting, making it up, or telling me its just all emotional. I finally had spinal surgery because a disc was intruding on my spinal chord which I was told could cause permanent spinal damage. I too experienced judgement about having a “voluntary” surgery. Received little to no support. Since that time I have fallen into a deep depression–another very stigmatized & misunderstood disorder. So try to guess the reactions I have received. I have lost faith in friends and family just to be here, support & love me. I continue to move forward thru the struggles but my heart is heavy.

    • Thanks Bunnie, for sharing all this. ‘invisible illnesses are so challenging! Blessings to you always!

  4. You rock! Thanks for all you do 😉

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