Stereotyping Cancer Survivors. I’m not brave, strong or blessed for beating cancer. It’s unfair to expect us to act like we’re brave blessed or strong for beating cancer.


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Recently on Facebook, a few pages dedicated to cancer awareness asked patients to describe themselves and how they feel in one word. 

Here’s an example. 
 

 

 
I liked how positive people’s responses were. I like how these pages are getting groups of people in tough times together. I loved the word “Surthriver”.
 
But there’s one that stands out to me. The one with no likes. 
 
.. Invisible.
 
People always tell me I’m brave for being so happy and positive through my journey. They admire how I’ve adapted, and grown, through my experience, and I give off that impression of a “surthriver” on my posts, I’m sure.
 
But the ugly, not-too-well-known truth about cancer is it’s not something that you have for a while that either kills you or spits you out to keep going. 
 
Cancer affects you long after its left your body… the physical fatigue, maintenance treatments and weariness is just the tip of the iceberg. The emotional drainage of facing your mortality, sometimes multiple times, the frustration of an all-too-slow recovery and the realisation that you may never be your old self again plagues many cancer patients long after their last treatment is over. Not to mention the medical bills…
But surviving cancer is still hailed as a victory. Something to be celebrated.
And cancer survivors, survivors of any tragedy for that matter, are hailed as heroes – symbols of strength – physical embodiments of those words badass, brave and blessed thrown about in that Facebook post above.
 
It’s gotten to a point that survivors are expected to be act that way…. 
Well, that expectation is UNFAIR.
And it’s leading to many survivors hiding their true feelings, not talking about it and not getting help. 
It’s leading to many feeling ashamed or weak when they don’t feel the same way.
And it’s leading to people getting depressed when they realise that cancer affects you long after treatment stops…
 
Telling someone, or expecting them to feel glad that they survived cancer is like telling war veterans with PTSD that they should be glad they’re alive…
 
It’s not easy being grateful for the worst thing that’s ever happened to you…
 
And the pressure we, as a society, put on these survivors to feel that way is not helping.
 
How we’re expected to act and behave, despite how we feel
SUCKS.
And if you feel the same way .. or if you, or a loved one are wondering why you’re not in that constant state of euphoria everyone talks about for beating cancer, believe me – 
 
YOU’RE NOT ALONE.
 
I come off as happy, positive, cheery even in the fact of adversity. As someone who’s adapted well to this journey. Someone who’s won their battle. 
 
I don’t feel like I’ve won…
 
hate that I got cancer. I hated having to suffer through it. 
 
And to this day I still suffer because of it. I spend more
time at the hospital getting treatment and waiting around for appointments than I do at university or hanging out with friends.
I get aches, spasms and cramps every day for no apparent reason. I have skin
peeling from my body, that itches incessantly and I can’t do anything about it. I get tired for no reason, I
fall in and out of depressive moods week by week and I’ve had to go from not
being able to walk for all the tiredness to being able to live a normal life 8 times now. 
It’s been 3 LONG years…
and I’m
STILL not done with this! 
I don’t feel
like blessed… I don’t feel brave… I don’t feel proud…
I don’t feel “glad to be alive”… not all the time.
More than anything… I Feel Tired.
 
 
I’m not alone here either. In fact, I’m representing the majority of survivors here. This reflection by another cancer patient on the untrue, frustrating stereotype that cancer survivors are expected to encapsulate, went viral and had huge support. 56% of cancer patients seek some form of psychological or medical emotional assistance in their treatment. Remember – not everyone is open, or can get access to that help. I’m sure everyone with cancer needs it, at some point in their treatment. 
Even those survivors, like me, who come off as mostly happy and positive don’t feel that way all the time.
 
It seems absurd that I have to say this. But it’s perfectly normal to feel bad after cancer… 
 
You don’t have to put up a facade, or berate yourself for the expectations of others. 
And it’s okay to feel down and pissed off every now and then. Everyone does. 
 
And you’re not weak to admit that you’re going through pain and suffering, physically and emotionally. In fact, it’s pretty brave to admit that you are. 
 
But it shouldn’t have to be that way. You shouldn’t be ashamed that you’re finding things hard. 
 
I’m writing this to let you know that you don’t have to be brave, badass or blessed to beat cancer. You don’t have to be those things to get through periods of depression or hardship or to accomplish anything in life for that matter… this part of my message applies to anyone.
 
How would I describe myself in 1 word? 
The way I’d handled all of this, how I’ve adapted and changed after cancer… I’d have to say that I was
 “smart.” 
 
The words I took to heart most when I was diagnosed weren’t those cliched “You’re strong!” “You’re brave!” or “You’re a fighter!”…
And also the the words of a nurse who told me, the day after being diagnosed that the next few weeks would be filled with pain, nausea, diarrhea, fevers and tears.
 
I didn’t go into my battle kidding myself. I knew it would be a long haul.
 
But I realised, when I took a step back and thought about it, that the fact that I knew and could acknowledge the pain that was coming meant that in the future, I wouldn’t give up when that pain got real. That I’d be prepared for it. That I would look at what would come after hardship rather than linger on it.
 
Realising and accepting that I was human, that there were things I couldn’t control, that it would take time to get better didn’t bring me down into despair… In truth it left me only one way to go. Up.
 
It was what allowed me to take a step back and look at where I was, without any delusions of grandeur or expectations of miracles. And that allowed me to see where I was and what I what I should do going forward with a startling clear logic.
 
Accepting that there were hard times to come, acknowleding that I was scared and worried made me focus on how I could get past my issues. And taking a step back and realising that only I could make myself feel down (no-one comes into your head and programs emotions into you – only you can) made me see that I actually had a choice on how I viewed my life and my journey. From there… choosing to have an attitude and living life on the path that made me happiest and healthiest became the only smart thing to do…
Looking in the big picture, and focusing on what I could control rather than what I couldn’t was what got me through this. NOT some inner strength or positivity or the blessing of others (though they were always appreciated). 
That’s something ANYONE can do. It’s not as hard as you think.
In fact – taking a step back and looking at where you are objectively, then acknowledging the hardships and doubts you have and planning your way around them will help you see a second, healthier and happier way of looking at life. And once you do that, choosing to view and live life on that path will be the easy, logical choice.
 
For me, during treatment, I didn’t get bogged down by the pain that chemotherapy, radiation and all my other treatments would bring – I chose to see those things as what they really were – the things that would help me get better in the long run. 
 
When I started feeling self conscious about my fitness and how I looked, I realised that I was only hurting myself to please others and chose to live my life how I wanted to live it – not by how others told me I should. And that’s made me the happiest, most self confident version of myself. 
 
When I get frustrated about how long it’s taking to get back to normal, or at how I’m being held back by this cancer, I choose to see that I’ll get there, in time, and how that this whole experience has taught me so much about myself and what I can do, that I’d go beyond that old normal.
 
These are things that ANYONE can do. 
And you can apply these to any goals you have in life. This isn’t just gonna help cancer patients…
 
You’re not WEAK if you think life is hard and painful sometimes. You’re definitely not ALONE. 
In fact, You’re NORMAL.
 
You don’t have to be strong to get through strife. Strength, motivation and the blessings of others help…
But the best thing on your side in your battle is YOU. 
 
And I hope this can help you get you on your side.
 
For those who know others are going through hard times , whether they be cancer survivors or not I hope this lets you know that just because they seem to be coping with it well – doesn’t mean they are. That simple question, “Are you okay” saves lives. 
Stopping that unfair expectation and breaking that stereotype of a survivor starts with YOU.
This was a reaction to this post – one of the most awesome reactions to a post of mine ever.

 

And this was a talk I gave on this issue not too long ago:

 


Another place where this post was shared and the reactions, the almost coming out of other survivors after reading this is amazing. You’re not alone.

“Survivors are too often expected to put on a happy face because the cancer is “finished”. But that expectation is…
Posted by I Had Cancer on Friday, 23 October 2015

 
As usual – if you ever wanna talk, about anything I’m here.
 
Or as usual – email me or comment as anonymous if you’d like to remain that way.

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