Coping With Emotions

What I Learned From Cancer

Cancer treatment can be a challenge to relationships. It is also an opportunity to make them stronger.

My cancer diagnosis changed my life completely. What I learned from cancer continues to affect my life nearly a decade later.

I Learned I’ve Got Grit

My experience with cancer challenged every part of my being. There was the physical challenge of the treatment process, and adapting to and overcoming all the changes that cancer imposed on my body. The emotional burden was immense. I grappled with my mortality, pondered the meaning of life and persevered even when I was sure I couldn’t go on. I was also overwhelmed by the mental demands of cancer. There were new things to learn on every front: terminology, choices in medical treatment, various medications, appointments and insurance claims. I could have used a full-time administrative assistant to manage it all, but what I got was chemo brain, a memory and cognitive impairment caused by treatment.

Recalling those days, I can now appreciate my resilience and how much I overcame. I can apply the insight I gained to other situations, knowing I am capable of rising to any challenge.

I Learned to Ask for and Accept Help

At some point, I started idolizing independence and believing I didn’t need to rely on others. Cancer disabused me of that belief. In reality, even when I thought I was entirely independent, I was part of a community. As I progressed through treatment, I learned that I couldn’t do everything by myself. I also learned that I didn’t need to.

People wanted to help, and when I accepted their help, I was also allowing them to participate in my healing. It made us both feel good. I also learned that I needed to ask for help. There were people and resources ready and willing to provide help once I let them know I needed it. Getting a ride to treatment with a friend added a fun social element to an otherwise dreary day. Learning to ask for help allowed me to connect with a number of services, and introduced me to people who are now dear friends.

Giving and receiving help is good for people and communities. It helps to knit us together and makes life richer for all of us. Giving back and helping others going through cancer helps me process what I’ve gone through and has become part of my path to healing. Helping others makes me feel good, and it employs the copious amounts of cancer-related knowledge I acquired during treatment.

I Learned to Appreciate the People in My Life More

During treatment, my relationships changed and deepened. I joined a support group for young women with breast cancer and made some dear friends. These women understand me better than most because they’ve undergone similar treatments and challenges.

My diagnosis also clarified my preexisting relationships. Some people stopped showing up, unable to share in this difficult aspect of my life. Other people immediately offered support and help. I worked harder to nurture my community and my friendships, and they are stronger now.

I’m moving forward after treatment with a changed body, and a changed outlook. What I learned from cancer is to be more intentional in my life, in the way that I take on challenges, ask for and receive help, and care for my relationships.

Cancer is not a challenge you have to face alone. Consider joining a support group to meet fellow travelers on this difficult road.

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Judy Schwartz Haley
Judy Schwartz Haley