It’s been a great week here at camp, but a tough one for the cancer community. I’ve gotten to know so many incredible people through the work I’m doing, and it often feels like I know them. These are people I’ve never met in person, whom I feel a deep connection to because of our mutual life experience. I cheer for their highs and feel the pain of their lows. I knew becoming a part of this community would lift me up more than anything ever could, and I was right. The knowledge that you are not alone makes such a huge difference. Cancer is isolating and can make you feel as though you barely recognize yourself. The cancer community beams with examples of people who may not be the exact same as they were before cancer, but are now beautifully so much more. Your pieces break and change, and when you try to put them back together, they don’t quite fit, so you have to mold yourself into something new—something that somehow ends up fitting better than anything ever could before.
At this point, I can’t imagine life not spent serving the cancer community. Spending my days coming up with ideas to support them and make them laugh has given me a sense of purpose I’ve never experienced before. But difficult weeks like these, where I feel deeply connected to members of the community who are in pain or are grieving, makes me wonder if I’m doing the best thing for myself. I’ve even been asked by family members and friends who genuinely have my best interest at heart if focusing so much on cancer is helpful or not.
This question has caused me to spend a lot of time this week wondering why I made the decision to place cancer at the center of not only my personal life (where it is by necessity), but also my professional one (where it is by choice). For some people, keeping cancer out of their minds and lives, aside from the moments it is absolutely necessary, is the best way to thrive. Tommy is this way. He genuinely thrives when he focuses on other things. He processes and is present with cancer when it’s necessary, but shifts it to the back burner when he wants to. It genuinely works for him, and I’ve tried it, but it’s just not a great fit for me.
Yesterday, I was listening to an old episode of Super Soul Sunday with Brené Brown, and I almost dropped the paper I was holding when I heard her recommend this: “Hold your shadow in front of you. It can only take you down from behind”. This fit. Hold your shadow in front of you. I think that’s why I’m constantly creating for, reading about, writing about, and thinking about cancer. I’m not a masochist. I’m looking out for myself. I’m not allowing the shadow to take me down from behind. If I’m holding my biggest fears right in front, staring them down every day, making fun of them, laughing at them, acknowledging them, questioning them, they are unable to sneak up on me. I have a sense of control. I feel one step head. I feel larger than them. I am serving the community I love while practicing self-care. This concept lifted a weight for me. I feel like I understand my new self a little bit more.
There is no one size fits all method for coping with cancer or supporting a loved one through it. Whether you keep it in the front or shift it to the back, do what feels right to you. Whether you lean on a select few or share your story with the world, do what feels right to you. Listen to your heart, you know what’s best.