by Terri Wingham, breast cancer survivor
The moment after you rang the chemo bell to signify the end of treatment or you ate the last crumb on the “Congratulations – You Made It Through Cancer” cake, did you wonder if you could click your heels three times and be transported back into your pre-cancer life? Did you look around in open-mouthed amazement when you realized cancer had forever changed you and that the “end” of treatment signalled the beginning of a brand new post-cancer journey?
Perhaps, like me, the “after cancer” road came complete with some unexpected land-mines like fears of recurrence, lingering side effects, and a volcano of suppressed (because you were too busy battling through pain or nausea to recognize them) emotions. When I wrapped up my final reconstruction surgery (post chemo and double mastectomy), I waited for the streamers, noisemakers, and old-school renditions of Auld Lang Syne to filter through my consciousness as I embraced the brand new, ‘ready for anything because I’d been through cancer’, me.
by Terri Wingham, Cancer Survivor
Photos courtesy of Carolyn Taylor
Has my title scared you off yet? The topic of death, especially for anyone who has lived through hearing the words, “you have cancer” can make even the most resilient of us squirm in our chairs. With a chalky mouth and a thready pulse, we look for an exit from the room, the conversation, and the risk that one day we will wake up with an unexplained pain and a doctor will pull an x-ray out of its sterile envelope, slide it onto a lit surface, and show us a colony of little metastases hunkered down deep in our bones.
by Terri Wingham
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.