You know a sure-fire way to figure out what "vulnerability" means? Get a doctor to say those three words-- you know the ones, they start with "you" and end with "cancer" There is a "have" in there, too, if I remember correctly. If you look closely, you will see vulnerability linked to that cancer on a chain so thick it’s impossible to break it free. But if having cancer means being vulnerable, it's worth exploring what kind of impact that's going to have on your cancer fight.
Here's how I see it: whether you want to see it or not, cancer breaks open that barrier that keeps them from facing mortality and forces people to face what it is like to be vulnerable and more importantly, to see how being vulnerable can even be helpful and healthy.
Let’s start with the physical aspect of cancer. At the point of diagnosis you realize that the "it-can’t-happen-to-me"
just, in fact, did happen. Your body was physically attacked by cancer and, at that moment, has become helpless. These thoughts lead us into the emotional aspect: anger, resentment and fear all pop up. Maybe you feel let down by your body. I felt that way, too. I was also mad. How did I let this happen? What did I do? It's okay to have these thoughts -- they're probably going to happen, so don't try to stifle them up or sweep them under the rug.
Welcome to the emotions of being vulnerable.
As you navigate the choppy waters of physical and emotional stresses of cancer, you will most likely be followed by a caravan of other people. They can be caregivers, friends, significant others -- people who are there to support you, give you encouragement, and help you in what is one of the worst periods of a person’s life.
It can feel like it would just be easier to keep everything bottled up inside: the fears you have of cancer
and dying from the disease, the thoughts that the meaning behind those words of so-called encouragement, and the hopeless feeling of being flat out helpless. I tried that out for a while. I pretended to be happy on the outside and fearless of cancer. I wanted other people to feel comfortable around me and see that cancer was just something I was going through, something that I would finish up and close the door on forever. I kept my vulnerable side locked up and buried deep within my mind.
Want to know what happened? I crashed and burned. Emotionally, all those fears, those thoughts, and that anxiety that I had bottled up for so long exploded and flooded out. I couldn’t cope. I was so overcome with the fear of cancer I could barely function.
What happened next? I made friends with my vulnerability and used it as my ally as opposed to my enemy. I welcomed it to just be with me. I saw for the first time that I could be vulnerable and still fight the fight.
Part of my problem was that I was denying that cancer was really, actually happening to me. News flash: cancer had already entered my life. I opened up to my friends and family and told them those words that they thought were encouragement were actually bringing more fears to the surface. In some cases, we had to agree to disagree, but in the end they did listen to me when I asked them to not say that to me anymore. It was a hard road to walk and it took a lot of conversations, a lot crying, and some pretty heated, angry moments. However, the moment that all of us realized that cancer and vulnerability go hand in hand, my cancer journey took a different path.
There is enough to worry about during cancer. Fighting vulnerability cannot be and shouldn’t be one of them.
What was one really tough moment you had during your cancer journey? Share in the comments below!
Photo courtesy of Lee Key