Losses from Cancer
Cancer brings a string of losses to one’s life. Sometimes it can feel like you’ve had one loss after another. As cancer survivors, we’ve lost the life we thought we’d have and our expectations for the future. We may have lost a sense of our identity/role or maybe some of our self-esteem. We may have lost body parts and/or functioning, or confidence and trust in our bodies, because it feels like our bodies have let us down. Even further, some of us have losses related to practical things like financial security. And sometimes it can feel like we’ve lost control over the course of our lives.
It’s important to understand that you may need to grieve these losses in the months and years following cancer treatment. People often think of grief as being associated with deaths. However, we don’t only grieve the deaths of loved ones…we grieve all types of losses, including these cancer-related losses for ourselves. And as we all know, loss comes with the diagnosis. That’s the hard news…whether you saw it coming or not, you will likely grieve.
When we are going through treatment, there isn’t much room for grieving; usually we are just surviving day to day. It’s often after treatment is over that the grief hits.
Understanding Grief Can Help
The better news is that there are ways to help the grieving process along. Just understanding the grieving process is a step in the right direction. So the following are some things to know about grief:
- Grief manifests itself in many ways.
- Sometimes we find ourselves crying for no apparent reason in random places…mostly in places and with people we’d rather not be crying with!
- Sometimes we find ourselves becoming angry and we don’t understand it.
- We may also find ourselves feeling irritated, frustrated, annoyed, and intolerant of others.
- It can be helpful to remember that grief often comes in waves and can be an uneven process that doesn’t have a timeline.
- Grief is commonly misunderstood to move through clearly delineated stages in a predictable way, until you reach the last stage and then it’s over.
- Although grief does have common phases, it is often not predictable, nor linear.
- We often weave in and out of phases and sometimes upsurges of grief take us by surprise.
- Grief over cancer-related losses can often bring up old issues and unresolved conflicts from the past too.
Judgment Can Make it Worse
Recognizing these things about grief can help us to refrain from judging ourselves. Grieving losses from cancer is hard enough, but then we often judge the emotions and judge ourselves for having them, which can create more suffering “piled on top.”
It can be futile to try to get rid of the emotional pain of grief, to try to avoid the emotions that are uncomfortable, for they will likely come back or hang around longer than they need to if we do. But what we can work on is the judgment.
When you notice that you are sad, angry or fearful about what you’ve been through, instead of judging the emotions as “wrong” or “bad,” could you acknowledge that they are part of the journey? Could you tell yourself, “This is a normal part of recovery from cancer,” and make room for the feelings, letting them come and go on their own? Feelings always rise and fall like waves on the sea…much more easily if they are unencumbered.
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