As a writer and survivor, I'm often asked to contribute freelance articles about cancer and all it's effects. It doesn't hurt that I also started a blog, HerAfter.com, on what it's like to live 'normally' after such a life-altering fight for survival. For the most part, I'm flattered when my perspective as a woman and writer is respected for having endured what so many millions of people do, and I take the work of dissecting this mad world through my articles very seriously. But every so often, no matter how hard I work to convey it, people seem to confuse my cancer (even though it's dead!) with who I am. They can't see me as a writer, as a woman, as a human wanting to talk about what's important in life while respecting the new perspective cancer gave me. They can only see me as a cancer survivor. They ask me to put it in headlines, to showcase it like a traffic-stopping CNN headline. It makes my survivorship feel like a dunce's cap. It doesn't make me feel like an authority, it makes me feel like a gimmick.
The Truth About Cancer:
This is a struggle every cancer fighter knows. Because whether it's websites asking me to using it as a ploy to get readers in, or friends and family that just treat you a little too gently ("Are you ok? Can I do anything for you? Do you need to talk about the 'C' word?"), it can be hard to keep perspective.
The truth is that though cancer can affect every single element of your life, in treatment and for long after, it's not who you are. The truth is that though you are fighting, it's never all your doing. The truth is that though you have cancer, though I had cancer:
I AM NOT MY CANCER.
I am not it's death or my survivorship, I am not it's lessons, I am not it's legacy. I am not it's impact or it's fear or even a cautionary tale of it. It's totally and completely and eternally okay to stand for something without becoming it, without it needing to be your entire identity.
Cancer fighters and survivors, please take this to heart: though cancer can take over your physical being, it can never become all that you are.
It can teach you many things, it can offer you deep, enthralling new perspectives on the most important topics of life, it can even do all these things years after you beat it, but it can never become you.
It is the glasses that clarify your sight, but it is never be your ability to see.
You can talk about it as much or as little as you want; you can think about it as often or as infrequently as you like.
You can think of it in big or small ways because the point is that how you define it, how you interact with it during and after your battle is completely up to you.
Furthermore, no matter how big or how scary or how severe your cancer was, your fear of it is always in your control, too. If you remain present here, in this moment, and not attached to an outcome you'd like to have in the future, your fear of having it again or at all can never rule your life.
Living with Cancer after Cancer:
In the 10 years since beating cancer, I've had many relationships with it. There's been resentment, fear, forgiveness, gratitude. Having the dead cells still reside in my body is a bit like carrying around the weapons of your slain enemy after the fight is over. It can't hurt you in the now, but you also know it's there, lurking in your backpack just where you can't see it... But regardless of the relationship I have with it mentally, emotionally or even professionally as a writer who pontificates on the matter, it is not who I am.
The essence of our selves is an intangible one. It is one free of pain and scars, free of illness, free from time and it's constraints. It is one that cannot be damaged by any of life's big events, and that's what cancer teaches us. That no matter what happens to you physical body, deep inside is an untouchable, incredible, divine being-ness that will never be mad about getting cancer even if it loses the battle. It's a being-ness made only of love, and when you realize that it has never been affected by the cancer, you realize the beauty and vastness of your being, and you cancer can never take you over.
I am not my cancer just like you are not any of the aspects about your physical body that you like or dislike. When fear takes over how we interact with a part of ourselves -- such as how we view our shape or a specific feature -- we start to judge that aspect as inadequate. But if we treat it with respect, if we honor it as something powerful and respect it's presence, we can keep it from controlling us and at the same time be freed of it.
You are not your weight or your size.
You are not your scars or your stretch marks or your extra long middle toe.
You are not your career.
You are not your failed relationship.
You are not your mother, your father, your enemy.
You are not the sum of your parts.
You ARE the sum of your contributions, of the times you stood up for the things and people you believe in.
You ARE the untouchable energy vibrating inside your physical body, the energy that cannot be dimmed or harmed, that cannot be hurt but only loves and lights up your life.
You ARE the only you in this world. You are unique and whole and important and you have a difference to make.
Along the way, you will be tested. Maintain your integrity, and you will look back on a life's journey you can be proud of.
This article has been adapted from it's original post on HerAfter.com