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How Has Cancer Changed Me?

I encourage you all to look at the beautiful photos being posted on the New York Times website along with very short essays of how life has changed for each person who has posted their photo. I have just randomly selected a few and taken a few minutes with each person to think about what their words capture of their cancer journey and compare and/or contrast it with mine.

In addition, here are comments from other readers, most of whom are cancer survivors, who offer longer personal and poignant views of this journey called “cancer survivorship,” what is sometimes referred to as membership in the club that no one wanted to join.

There is a wide range and depth of views and feelings from all ages of people. Some of these comments do demonstrate that it is possible to “move on” in a healthy way, but more comments show that there are many cancer survivors with a multitude of unmet needs, people truly struggling with life after cancer.

I was particularly struck by one woman’s comment that her oncologist told her to stay angry because angry people take charge of their health. Perhaps there is some truth to that, however, I think I would modify that statement to say that anger can be a very effective short-term coping mechanism if it is used to take stock and take charge of one’s health and life after cancer, but emphasize the short-term aspect of that “assignment.”

On-going anger can also kill a person’s spirit and the joy of living today (which is all any of us have, of course), and I remember the instant I realized that. With that flash of insight so many years ago now, I completely accepted that cancer (or long-term complications of cancer therapy) may indeed kill me at some point in the future (I could live with that!), but I would not allow cancer to also kill my spirit today. In effect I was no longer going to give cancer permission to potentially kill me twice. Nope, nope, nope — once, yes, but twice? — no, I was not going to allow that any longer.

How has cancer changed me? There is so much I could say; it is hard to narrow down to 150 words or less as requested for the photo collage. Restricting my thoughts to life after my third cancer diagnosis, i.e., my second breast cancer diagnosis in 1995, here is what I said with the photo I submitted to the New York Times tonight:

I am a childhood cancer survivor with multiple additional cancer diagnoses and health problems.  After my second breast cancer diagnosis in 1995, I finally let go of my fears and anger at living under Damocles sword for decades to turn around to embrace instead of run from my cancer experiences, which (1) helped me develop deep compassion for all who suffer, (2) widen my world beyond imagination or expectation, and (3) gave me the focus and push to get back to dreams forgotten or put on hold (starting an organic farm).

I hope that if I am a few steps ahead of others on this cancer journey, I am able to hold up a light to make their path less difficult to see and follow.  We are all here to help each other.  Cancer has taught me that, too, over and over and over again.
Diana Dyer, Ann Arbor, MI, www.dianadyer.com

Photo credited to Diana Dyer.

This post was borrowed with permission from Diana’s blog, DianaDyer.com.

Diana is a wife, mom, organic farmer, Registered Dietitian, and author of the book A Dietitian's Cancer Story. In between all that and more, she is a multiple-time cancer survivor. Diana's website, CancerRD.com, focuses on nutrition information for cancer survivors. She began her blog, DianaDyer.com, to share a wider scope of thoughts about life as a cancer survivor, food and nutrition, gardening, recipes, our environment, and the urgent need for developing food systems that promote health not disease, ecological sustainability, and social justice. Photo credit: Dick Dyer

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