The Pain Others Don't See

Being diagnosed with any illness causes its share of pain. Cancer, unfortunately, ups the ante. I had led a fairly healthy life before being diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in June of 2010. In the early months after my diagnosis, I remember thinking I could handle any pain that my body was about to endure. My reason for that was simple: I didn’t want to die. Feeling pain was a positive alternative.

Now almost 6 ½ years since hearing those words, "It's cancer," I realize that being cancer free doesn't guarantee a pain-free existence. Pain can be even more difficult to handle these days because you "look" normal and cancer treatments are years behind you. Yet, as a cancer survivor, I have learned that the pain others do not see is more prevalent now. Cancer is something "past tense" for most friends and family; yet that is not an option for the survivor. The cancer journey just travels a different road than it did during the early years.

After a diagnosis, the pain others don't see is more obvious- like seeing the fear in your loved one’s faces and hearing it in their voices. It's the pain you see in your own eyes when you look in the mirror during chemotherapy treatments. They say the eyes are the window to the soul, and for me that was so true during chemo. I could gauge my internal pain after treatments by the darkness around my eyes. Now, if I have pushed myself physically, the re-emerging darkness around my eyes tells me to listen to my body and rest.

The silent pain of loss has been the most profound-The pain of losing the life you knew. The unexpected pain of friends disappearing from your life when you need them the most. The pain of losing parts of your body; and then dealing with that change on a daily basis. Those losses can challenge even the most mentally tough.

These invisible pains are made more profound by the initial instinct to keep some of them to yourself. But I have learned that pain shared can be lessened; whether it be in a support group, with a therapist, fellow cancer survivors, a trusted friend, or a cancer community.

But just when you feel you have this cancer survivor thing figured out, new pains begin to emerge. Hearing stories of people being told their cancer has metastasized-- or even worse, hearing that someone has died of the same cancer you had. Survivor's guilt rears its ugly head and causes difficult thoughts. Why is my cancer in remission? How did I stay alive; while others faced a different outcome?

But amidst the pain, it's so important not to lose sight of the joys along the journey. Some days you have to look a little harder to find them, but if you have woken up to face another day, embrace that simple joy. Being grateful for the little things can bring joy.

Welcome the joy from the people in your life who continue to show up and support you even though many think your cancer journey is long over. The profound pain from the cancer journey makes the smallest joys that much more enjoyable. And although cancer can cause pain for survivors that others don’t see, try not to let it take away the joy and gratitude. When I do experience pain that others don’t see, I allow myself to feel it, because feeling it means I am here: grateful to face another day on this journey, no matter how it challenges me.

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