Cancer is Transforming

Someone asked me recently what one word I would choose to describe my cancer experience. The word I chose then and would choose today as well is transforming.

That’s what cancer does. It transforms.

Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to hear the dreaded words you have cancer, perhaps has a different word of choice to describe her cancer experience.

I’m sticking with transforming – at least today and in this public domain!

I intentionally chose the present tense because cancer’s transformation is an ongoing process. It’s never over because cancer is never truly over. Even when you’re NED (no evidence of disease) like me, its shadow lingers.

For me anyway, in so many ways and due to so many reasons, cancer continues to be transforming.

People who hear the words you have cancer sometimes say they can divide their life into two parts; the time before cancer and the time after their diagnosis. Cancer is a great divide.

I certainly do this.

Sometimes my other life feels not only very different, but also very distant. Sometimes I have to really stop and think about what things were like before.

Cancer transforms because it takes a lot.

Cancer took my mother and others I care about. Cancer took chunks of me away, quite literally as well as figuratively.

Cancer keeps on taking… That’s what cancer does.

Sure, all of this transforming has some good parts to it.

I like to think I’ve made a few positive changes since I was diagnosed.

For instance, I have set new priorities and reassigned the order as to what things are most important to me.

I look at the simplicities as well as the complexities of life through a different lens now. I value things differently; some things more, some things less. I’ve formed new friendships and rekindled a few old ones. I’ve discovered new passions and identified new dreams. I’ve changed careers.

I think about the future, but worry less about it, if this makes any sense. I waste less time. Okay, I try to waste less time. I hurry less. I think more, which really means I judge less harshly and accept more freely.

While these are good things, I will not give cancer credit for them.

I owe cancer nothing.

I’ve certainly had more than a few glimpses into the dark side of cancer’s transformation.

I witnessed the ugliness and cruelty of cancer up close. I witnessed the illness and slow agonizing death of my mother from metastatic breast cancer. Witnessing such a thing is transforming. I am changed forever due to my cancer experience and hers as well. Cancer has also taken friends of mine.

Cancer takes; it takes a lot.

This is why I will never ever call it a gift. It’s not.

I have not magically morphed into a better person either because of my cancer experience. I’m still just me. This ‘cancer makes you a better person’ theory is just another attempt to tidy up the messiness of cancer.

No, cancer is more like a thief.

You don’t thank a thief.

Today, even three years later, I am still trying to figure out life on this side of the “great divide.” I am still trying to figure out the balancing act of life post-cancer diagnosis.

I’m not there yet.

But I am planning. I am writing. I am adapting. I am doing.

Mostly, I am just ‘being’.

And I am still transforming.


DSCN9600Nancy Stordahl is a freelance writer and former educator whose mother died from breast cancer in 2008. Two years later, Nancy too was diagnosed with breast cancer and learned that she carries a mutation on one of the breast cancer genes, BRCA2. Nancy has written extensively about her cancer diagnosis and treatment, hereditary cancer, grief and loss, and she discusses compelling issues regarding many aspects of survivorship. With precision and gentle humor, Nancy boldly shares concerns about breast cancer awareness and advocacy, and is a staunch advocate for those living with metastatic disease as she continues to push for research and attention to this frequently overlooked segment of the breast cancer community. Nancy Stordahl writes the respected and popular blog Nancy’s Point where she shares candidly about her personal experiences, is a featured blogger on Huffington Post, and is the author of Getting Past the Fear:  A guide to help you mentally prepare for chemotherapy. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband David and two dogs, Elsie and Sophie.

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