Three Identities & One Cancer-Journey

What I have been looking into lately is the identities that come on this side of cancer. What identity do we latch onto as we fight and then we get the news that we are cancer free but the identification stays with us without any thought.

One particular identity, “Survivor” has been actively promoted and widely and prominently used. The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, formed in 1986 as an advocacy group, chose the term survivorship to deliberately promote empowerment of those with cancer. The term survivorship represents living after a diagnosis of cancer, regardless of how long a person lives. This terminology is used by many health care professionals, researchers, and those recovering from cancer to refer not only to the physical but also the social, psychological, spiritual, and existential impact of cancer on one’s life for the remainder of one’s life. I have even given a couple of speeches on this identity, I have worn this one as a badge proudly. One cousin of mine early on in my Cancer-Journey had told me that I was a survivor the moment I had gotten the diagnosis. He was on his 2nd journey of skin cancer, this is something that stuck with me all this time. Sadly since then he has passed but his encouraging words to help me fight still linger in my head.

Another identity, “Patient” is another oft-used label. Patient identity may be common and appropriate during active treatment, but continuing to identify as a patient beyond treatment may indicate passivity and adoption of the “sick role”. Patient identity may lead to reduced feelings of control and hope, and thus to relinquishing responsibility for one’s health and welfare to the medical establishment. I have found that I had gotten way more attention during this time of my life than I had ever had. So many people coming out to help me along with my journey; family members and friends that I hadn’t heard from for so long was there to take me out, entertain me or simple sit with me and hold my hand. I had found after I was passed the Cancer-Journey slowly life went back to normal and I was left without all this added attention. How many have found this let down and continue to play the “sick role” to still have that attention in their life? I decided that this wasn’t the attention I am in need of anymore and to change my thinking from this identity to more of a healthy attention is what I need to further my healing of this traumatic experience.

A third identity sometimes adopted by those with cancer, “Victim” suggests passivity and lack of agency regarding one’s cancer, and, perhaps, continued vulnerability. Victim suggests viewing the cancer as resulting from forces beyond the individual’s control, connoting a sense of injury, injustice, and powerlessness.

This third identity is one that I have found most often. Seeing the continued vulnerability or views of the “Victim” identity well after someone has been found with no signs of cancer. Subconsciously I have found myself at times with this victim mentality. In my way, it was my way for the fight of my life to surrender and allow others to do for me, help me. I am a very independent person and do not need help – so when the diagnosis of Cancer flooded my life, first time in my life I had to admit to myself that I cannot do everything for myself anymore. Once I seen myself after I gotten the news there was no signs of cancer I wanted to quickly stop because I am not the victim anymore and how do I do this? How do I change my thinking to be the healthiest person I can be.

Be compassionate to YOURSELF: We have all heard of the saying “love your neighbor as yourself” – but we often focus on the first part and we take the second part for granted. However, there is a quiet epidemic of self-loathing that betrays this assumption. I found that I can challenge myself to begin the journey of self-love with self compassion. One way I have turned to drawing on the warmth of friendship that I know exists, surrounding myself with positive people to draw and direct it to myself.

Resist SELF-SABOTAGE: What is the root of my self-sabotaging behavior? Well I faced having cancer in my life to take my life turning my life upside down and fear of not being around to raise my daughter. That right there was what kept me going most days, visioning not being around and my daughter growing up without me in her life to raise her the way I know she needs to be raised. I being a single mother at age 40 – HOW THE HELL DID THIS HAPPEN? I need to take control back of my life and stop the Cancer-Mind taking over still even after being “no signs of cancer” for 2 1/2 years now. When we are trapped in the world of victimhood, we tend to be more aware of how vulnerable we truly are. We experience a sense of deep foreboding. It’s a sense that disaster is always lurking around the corner. And the sensation is most intestinal when things are going well. You know that nagging “waiting for the other shoe to drop”?

If disaster is going to come, the victim mentality wants to control my mind when that disaster will strike so I will not be disappointed. Therefore, I have undermined my own joy and success with this self-destructive behavior. This inner saboteur is a very powerful enemy, but the power inside me to resist is even stronger. I cannot participate any longer. Resisting the feeling that I do not deserve joy and success or even being afraid of joy and success because I have had this terrible bump in journey that doesn’t have to define ALL OF ME. I need to enjoy all the blessings, positive in my life each day at a time. I accept them fully and graciously.

Liza Withda-z Pequeno

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