In 2006 I was dying. I was diagnosed with a voracious and debilitating disease that ate away at my mind, body and spirit. I was diagnosed with cancer. Upon hearing my diagnosis, I knew myself to be dead within 24 hours. I had been forever linked to a new race of people, a casualty of a physical war upon my body with a stigma of epic proportions. In a matter of moments my identity of strength, health and confidence was wiped clean only to be replaced by weakness, pity and fear. Total strangers would sigh their pity as I passed them and even my friends and family would avert their eyes from mine as my last eyelash came floating down before them. I was alone… alone with death.
A diagnosis of cancer brings together a combination of two unfortunate diseases in one – a double whammy of stress and strain. Physical cancer eats away at your cells with the sole intention of your eventual death and emotional cancer attacks your mind and your spirit but is as equally dangerous and unforgiving.
Not all cancers are the same, nor are all emotional impacts, but what I have determined to be true is that if left unchecked and ignored the emotional cancer can be your death… even if your body lives on. Physical cancer affects you individually; emotional cancer is contagious and can infect those around you. I have found this cancer, the emotional cancer, to be the most debilitating, the one that caused me the most suffering, and the most widely misunderstood and untreated cancer of them all.
We’ve been conditioned to fear cancer, and we do so dutifully. We fear – we fear what cancer does, we fear the mystery of it, we fear loss of life, incapacitation and loss of control. We avoid the discussion, we encourage those afflicted to think positive and we turn our loved ones into warriors insisting that they are not trying hard enough should treatment be failing. Cancer causes suffering, not just for some, but for all who are touched by it. There may be varying degrees but it’s not just some who struggle with fear and self-pity while others show courage and strength, everyone afflicted will have moments of each; its only the moments that you see them that you may pass judgement and decide for them. The emotional cancer is a culmination of all the dark feelings as well as the courageous and hopeful feelings all rolling around together competing to come out on top. Who wins one day is a coin toss really, and each day (or hour for that matter) can be different. These dark feelings are where our fears are; this is the mystery of cancer. It’s important to know that the cancer itself is not the monster, it’s our perceptions of it that makes it our reality. Recognizing our feelings and accepting that we will be engulfed in varying emotions from time to time is the first step in understanding the truth about cancer. Emotions are raw and honest and there is no shame in being human and allowing yourself to feel. When you understand this truth, then you can begin to teach hope.