Survivorship Is Always Evolving

I recently went to hear Shannon Miller, gold medal gymnast and now ovarian cancer survivor, speak at UVM where she was sponsored by Fletcher Allen and the Eleanor B. Daniels Fund. Shannon’s speech was uplifting because of her personal courage and optimism. She was genuine, open, and honest in talking about her experience coping with ovarian cancer, surgery, and treatment. Even though she saved her handstand for the next day on her visit with gymnasts, she radiated with her champion glow–something that her experience with cancer has not changed.

My husband appreciated her practical advice and optimism, as he listened in the audience with me. It seemed that Shannon is fighting cancer with a champion’s attitude, and she appears to be winning, as her health is good right now, over a year after treatment ended.

After the talk, though, a funny thing happened on the way back to my car. I was sad. I didn’t at first know why. I was just sad. In reflecting, I think there are two main reasons.

First, I really hate cancer. All I can say is that I wish that Shannon had not had cancer. She is so young, vibrant, and has a young family. I know in my mind that cancer doesn’t pick its victims in any way that is fair, but honestly, it kind of breaks my heart that she has had to deal with ovarian cancer.

Second, I am now five-year survivor of ovarian cancer. Her talk about diagnosis, the shock, the rigors of treatment, and the fears of recurrence brought back a lot of my worst memories of my own ordeal. I don’t dwell on them often in my day-to-day life any more. Hearing her account seemed to trigger some sadness in me. Tears came, then went. A passing grief. My own cancer survivorship, it seems, is still evolving. That was the first time in a long time I had felt such sorrow.

Shannon mentioned something I thought was important: She said she believed that you need to allow yourself to have your feelings. I believe that, too. Sometimes cancer experiences are frightening, sorrowful, painful, or even maddening on some levels. You can’t just check a box that says: I will always be happy and upbeat in the face of my cancer ordeal. Not going to happen. The toil and troubles of cancer are too rigorous. Everyone will feel sad, hurt, scared or angry at some point. You wouldn’t be human if cancer didn’t upset you.

But, like Shannon said, “When you fall, you get back up.” So, you can accept the so-called “negative” emotions as you feel them, but then you get on with your day. Maybe your day can include getting support or regaining your health by taking care of your body and of your emotions. Get counseling if you need an expert’s help.

Let someone close to you know of your pains, physical and emotional, and then, respond by getting up, moving on, and having a core belief in your ability to cope, your odds of healing, and your inner strength. Everyone has inner strength, with or without gold medals in your past.

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