Two years ago, the words, “you have cancer” changed my life forever. At the age of 30, fighting cancer was physically draining and emotionally exhausting. But, no one prepared me for how hard it would be to pick up the pieces of my pre-cancer life and move forward after treatment ended.
When I walked out of the hospital after my final surgery in January of 2011, a nurse told me how to dress my wounds, but no one told me how to cope with the challenging emotions I faced on my way to survivorship. Well-meaning friends and family talked endlessly about how excited I must be for treatment to be over. But I didn’t feel excited.
Like many of the 12+ million cancer survivors in North America, I felt trapped in a post-treatment void. I had lost my sense of belonging to my pre-cancer world, my connection to myself and to my friends and family, and my sense of certainty about life. The support during my diagnosis and treatment faded, and I was left alone with my fears of recurrence, my worries about how returning to a stressful job could increase my risk of developing a secondary cancer, and my sense of loss over my breasts and my carefree past.
Thankfully, a 6-week volunteer trip to Africa helped me heal emotionally. It allowed me to travel 16,000 km away from where treatment took place. It gave me the chance to take care of others instead of being taken care of. And it allowed me to meet people who had no expectation for me to “get back to normal”. My time in a third world country also reminded me how lucky I am to have the opportunity to re-build my life in Canada.
Just 2 1/2 weeks ago, I embarked on a trip around the world where I will volunteer with 7-10 organizations on five continents. I will use the knowledge I gain to build an online resource that helps survivors select and plan for their own volunteer trips. Then, I will share this website with every major cancer center across North America. My mission is to ensure that no other survivor will have to walk out of the hospital on his or her final day of treatment feeling alone and cut off from support. I want to provide other survivors an opportunity to re-write their most recent story by going on their own Adventure of Hope.
Terri is a 32 year old breast cancer survivor from Vancouver, B.C. She is a friend, sister, aunt, daughter, niece, blogger, international volunteer, world traveler, storyteller, photographer, wine lover, post-wine booty shaker, writer, dreamer, and breast cancer survivor. To read about her profound experience at the K Cancer Hospital in Ha Noi, Vietnam, please visit her blog, A Fresh Chapter, and read one of her recent posts: Sisters From Another Mister.