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Breaking Free From the Cancer Identity

Please don't get me wrong. I am so incredibly thankful I am surviving after my cancer diagnosis and treatment. But at the same time, I'm ready to be so much more than just the girl who survived cancer. I'm ready to simply be me.
10/09/2015 08:24am ET | Updated October 9, 2016
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It's about two in the morning, and I'm still wide-awake. I have an appointment with my oncologist in just seven hours. It's only a monthly blood test and a physical, but it's always the same thing the night before I go in to see him... I'm not getting much sleep tonight. There's too many thoughts, worries, and emotions racing in my head.

As I sit here alone in my room reflecting over the last three years, I feel tired. But not the kind of tired that would give me rest and finally put me to sleep tonight. It's the kind of tired you feel in your bones until it sinks all the way down, deep into your soul.

I am so profoundly tired.

I am tired of writing the same things over and over again, about how I'm too young for this, or how I'm trying my best to get past it and make sense of it, or how I'm just so grateful to be alive. Those words are all true, but there's another side of my story that's true, too.

I'm tired of watching my fellow young adult cancer survivor friends die. It hurts so damn much every time. I'm tired of being afraid to get involved in the cancer survivor community again for fear of losing more friends to this disease yet again. I'm tired of wondering if I'm next in line to relapse or die. I'm tired of hearing cancer metaphors and clichés and pretending like they mean something to me. I'm tired of carrying around the hidden burden of this grief inside me while on the outside pretending to be fine.

I'm tired of the guilt I feel when I write these things down because I've known some of the most positive people ever who would've given anything to be here today to tell me I'm wrong.

I'm tired of the brave, heroic patient role I've found myself compelled to play. I'm tired of worrying if that's all I'll ever really be good at now. Quite simply, I am tired of cancer.

Cancer affects so much more than just your physical body. It infiltrates every part of your life and every shred of your inmost being. It invades every hope and fear, every dream and nightmare. For three years, I believed that if I threw myself into the practice of being the best possible cancer survivor I could be, then maybe, just maybe, I could find a purpose in all this hurt and I could "beat cancer."

I've heard people say, "cancer is not my identity" or "cancer does not define me." But truthfully, cancer has become my identity. It's an identity I built up to prepare myself for "the battle" so that I could outwit my "enemy." I had to know everything about my cancer so I could maneuver my way around it. I had to think like my cancer did. I had to become my cancer.

But now that I am cancer-free, I suddenly find my former identity of "cancer warrior" very much empty. This void fills itself with fear, bitterness, anger, sadness, grief... any dark emotion it can drag down to its depths. And this makes me tired, so tired, to live this way every day. No soul can carry these emotions in an empty shell of an identity for too long.

So now I'm breaking out of my cancer identity. It is a slow process, but it's been healing. I've stepped back from the online cancer community for a while, and while I'll always support those who share this unfortunate bond with me, I'm letting go of the sense of ownership I feel towards their fates. I remind myself that their cancer is not my cancer, and that their story is not mine. Cancer doesn't make sense. Even though the guy who sat next to me during chemotherapy and received the same drugs as I did died, that doesn't mean it's just a matter of time before I succumb to the same fate, too. Yes, we will all die one day (another cliché I've heard entirely too many times), but for me that day wasn't today.

Each step forward, each day that passes, each monthly appointment with good blood test results... these all add to the distance I reverently lay down between my life as a cancer warrior and my life as... well, just me.

Please don't get me wrong. I am so incredibly thankful I am surviving after my cancer diagnosis and treatment. But at the same time, I'm ready to be so much more than just the girl who survived cancer. I'm ready to simply be me.