Sunday, December 13, 2009

Finding Yourself

Time after time, I hear breast cancer survivors say that they have lost themselves somewhere in this cancer journey. Indeed, I have felt this several times along this long path.

I don't often hear oncologists, or people writing articles about breast cancer patients mention it. And yet, for many of us, it is a struggle. It seems like most of the care and thought about the disease is with the diagnosis and the treatment.

After treatment has been completed, I don't hear many people talk about what the survivor has been going through mentally. In fact, I think that many (if not most) oncologists aren't quite sure how to deal with us. Sometimes going to a therapist is suggested, but often insurance doesn't cover it or there just isn't the funds to pay for all the co-pays....and it is a rare therapist who can really understand this.

To be sure, it isn't uncommon for anyone who has gone through a life change to feel this way. Indeed, when I had my daughter and left my position at the museum I struggled. No longer did I have a professional standing, I was just a mom. I have heard others struggle with the same thing.

But, for the cancer survivor, there is even a harder struggle. We have come out of a life threatening situation. Many of us have had long, hard struggles with chemo-therapy. We are no longer actively fighting. Our bodies may have been changed. Our futures are no longer as certain as they had been (or rather as we had perceived them). What do we want? How do we go about achieving it? What physical limitations do we now have which we didn't have previously?

I understand, and this may be an imperfect understanding, that among some Jewish cultures, when an individual has a life threatening, or near death experience, they then change their name. Perhaps this is a good idea. It gives us a new beginning, one not necessarily burdened with the past. It allows us to remake ourselves.

I don't know what the answer is for this. It is something I struggle with. I do wish, however, that more care would be taken to look at the long-term psychological effects and that tools would be given us to help us cope with this phenomena.