08 January 2011
A longtime acquaintance called this week to share a secret she has held inside for many years. She too is a breast cancer survivor, but very few know about her personal journey of fear and physical confrontation. At the time she was diagnosed, she had a lumpectomy, then a series of radiation treatments, and along the way she decided not to share her cancer with anyone except her husband and mother. In her words, “I was beginning a new job, and didn’t want my new colleagues to think cancer would negatively impact my work.” She went on to tell me how silly she feels now, and how angry she is that nobody knows she is a survivor.
I heard from another woman recently that at first she didn’t share either. She told me that she didn’t want cancer to be her identity, that she convinced herself that if nobody knew, she had more power over the disease. That is until she was told that chemotherapy would be necessary. It’s very difficult to hide a serious illness like cancer when you go bald, lose your eyelashes and eyebrows, and have to take days off from work for chemotherapy infusion, and possibly one or more surgeries.
I can understand why some may want to maintain a sense of privacy about their diagnosis. I really can. But for me, I couldn’t do it. The emotions of the diagnosis were too much for someone like me to handle alone. A personality like mine requires love and strength from those I care about most.
In addition, an unexpected twist from sharing my cancer has been the privilege of meeting new life friends – cancer graduates and champions who have inspired me along the way. Their presence has kept my spirits high and my outlook optimistic.
As the late journalist Leroy Sievers said before his own death from cancer: “My cancer is a magnet that draws me to other people with cancer. We’re all in this together. We know what death looks like. It’s a club based on black humor, multiple shoulders to cry on, and the great and abiding strength of its members.”
I also don’t want cancer to identify me. Instead, the identifiers that have carried me through life have been incredibly rewarding – mother and daughter, a native of Little Rock, Hendrix graduate, a lifelong United Methodist, public relations professional, passionate education reform advocate, a community volunteer, a friend to many but always in need of their friendship to me.
And while I wish cancer had not invaded my body or my life, it did. Many times this year my heart told me to shout out to the world, “This isn’t me! This is not who I used to be! My same self will return soon!” But the truth is, cancer is now about me, along with the other life happenings that make me Stacy Sells. But after Cancer, I will never be the same again – for good or for ill. I need to know that, to remember that, to understand that — even when others don't.
The cancer ride is not easy. But I’ve found the drive much smoother knowing there are others on my side, in my corner, ready to do battle with me, inspired by others who are accomplished cancer warriors.
I can understand keeping cancer a secret. Nobody should tell you what to do, how to manage it, who you should tell, or what emotions you should feel. It’s our own disease, belonging to nobody else but you. If it’s emotionally healthy, then handle it in the way that you manage other important matters in life.
As for me, I’ll never regret sharing my journey with others.
Posted by Stacy Sells at 8:10 PM