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I Wasn't Prepared for Life After Cancer

October 21st, 2015 |
Young Adult Cancer, Emotional Support, Survivorship

by stevepake | Survivor: Testicular Cancer    Connect


When suffering from anxiety and stress after cancer, handling your emotions around others can be difficult to navigate. Opening up to love can help with healing in life after cancer.

The first time I saw a photo of the sculpture titled "LOVE" at this year's Burning Man Festival by Ukranian artist Alexandr Milov, I was nearly moved to tears by how powerfully yet simply it represented how I've felt about one too many people over past years. Some say the sculpture represents people's egos, pride, and resentment. Allowing pain to persist when people are unwilling or unable to resolve bad situations with each other, even though deep inside, the inner child is reaching out towards the other with love.



I've never had a big ego, but I relate to this strongly as a young adult cancer survivor. Anxiety and uncertainty after cancer, along with depression and post-traumatic stress, certainly took their tolls on myself and people in my life. It's such a dark and lonely experience, and it's taken me years just to start opening up about such a painful part of my life and cancer survivorship experience.

When suffering from post-traumatic stress, your instincts are on high alert and you become hyper-aware. Any threat, whether real or imagined, can set you off. People that I had loved and cared about actually became triggers for my post-traumatic stress. They didn't know how to handle me while in such a state, didn't know how to not say or do the wrong things around me as a cancer survivor, or flat out didn't have the best of intentions in mind.

They became "unsafe" people to me, and the mere sight of someone, the sound of their voice, or even their smell could cause an adrenaline rush of defensive energy, and the instinctual need to run, hide, or fight back. I'd never been so frustrated, disheartened, and disappointed in my life. I had fought my way so hard through cancer, only to have my mind playing the most terrible of games on me the years after, with people that I knew I loved, entangled in this expanding matrix of potential triggers.

Turning my back towards people was never a matter of pride or ego with me, but one of self-preservation. Those that had the magic set of keys to my mind could stay, and all others just had to go. It didn't matter who was who. People needed to be perfect around me, but who's perfect? People have let me down, yes, but I've failed them as well, and I've also failed myself.

One thing that cancer did was bring out my personality full force. I'm a true-to-their-sign Scorpio in that I've always had very powerful feelings about things. It's a gift to be able to feel so much love towards people, but we can hurt like crazy too. I wasn't prepared to handle going from pre-cancer to full force crisis mode in my initial years afterward. It's been something that I've needed mentoring on, and that I've had to grow into. A big part of my problem was my own. I wanted to be able to forgive and love people again, but forgiveness was foreign to me. I wanted to keep moving forward, but didn't know how to cross this spiritual impasse.

The answer is that you have to evolve and become a better person than you were before.

I'd already found ways to heal mind, body, and soul, but I'd never healed my heart. The biggest thing I've learned in this round of reinvention after cancer is the importance of self-love. My perceived faults were never flaws, nor even mistakes. Embracing that helped me to accept all that I am, and all that others are as well. You can't fully love, forgive, or embrace others until you can do the same for yourself. I've finally managed to decouple these people I've loved from the matrix of post-traumatic stress triggers, simply by choosing to love them again. That trapped child within has finally been released, and is free to just love again.

Omnia Vincit Amor. Love conquers all.


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stevepake   
Steve enjoys travel and fine dining, adventures with his family, running, writing, photography, and plenty of time with friends. Steve also blogs about cancer and the survivorship experience at his website, was the Co-Founder and Chair of the first ever Testicular Cancer Summit of 2017, and is a former Testicular Cancer non-profit director.

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