Choosing Better Over Bitter

I’ve learned in life that there are three types of choices: There are easy choices, there are difficult choices and there are choices that are made for you.

Sunday morning, July 26, 2015: He said, “I can’t do this anymore. I don’t love you. You aren’t the woman I married, you have no passion… we are like roommates. CANCER CHANGED YOU.” He said a lot of other things too. And then he was gone.

That Sunday morning was the second time in my life I felt a choice was made for me and I had no say in it.  The previous time was the day I was diagnosed with cancer some 10 years earlier. The months leading up to that Sunday morning I had been to the hospital no fewer than 10 times, I had stayed for a total of 11 days, I had been to the ER probably 5 times, and I had a major surgery and more tests than I could count… I was so sick that Sunday morning, my doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me, and my marriage just came to a screeching halt. That day and the week following I wanted to make what seemed like an easy choice, I wanted to die. I know that may sound morbid and even dramatic, but that seemed to be an easier choice than what laid before me.

Between another hospital stay (a month this time) and some devastating correspondence, I was pushed to my end. I was so low, so exhausted, and simply beat down. The night of my birthday, in late September, I had a life altering conversation with a dear friend who reminded me that I was a survivor. She reminded me that there were people who loved me; my family, friends, and colleagues and even though I felt a great deal of shame, deep down I had to know I had value and purpose. I am not going to sugar coat it, going through a divorce is horrible… divorce after 12 ½ years of marriage is even more horrible. Being told that a disease you didn’t choose was the reason for your spouse leaving is devastating, but I had been through this type of “horrible” a few times before. I could survive this too.

I can’t tell you the exact day, but later that Fall I made a conscious decision to not give up on my life and the hope of love. This was my difficult choice. I knew I had to unpack so many painful things that had existed in my life for years. There was trauma from going through cancer treatment, unhealthy behaviors from a toxic marriage, and even things from my childhood that I had never faced and they were all bubbling at the surface waiting to be let out.  The journey that was ahead was sure to be difficult, but I had to make a decision that I was worth it so that I could live part two of my life as I believe God had always intended. 

For that year, I dedicated myself to weekly therapy. I worked ferociously at weeding out the things that were holding me back, that scared me, and that were hindering me from being all I wanted to be. Believe me when I say that it was an emotional roller coaster, but it was a ride that I would take over and over again, to get to the place I am today.

About a year after that fateful Sunday, my life made a sharp right turn and what would happen over the next year could have never been planned. I know that a series of choices in my life led to me that place that Friday evening. I walked into a restaurant, butterflies in my stomach, and he stood there. He being, the man that would change my life. A couple months earlier I had chosen to dip my toe back into the dating world. Being divorced caused a lot of fear and shame for me, but I worked hard to face that head on and allow a healing process to work in me. 

The healing process after my divorce was much like healing after cancer treatment. The first few months I was emotionally and physically spent. It was hard to do anything and a level of depression existed so much that I just got used to it. Then about six months into it I began to feel like the fog was lifting and I could regain some footing. There were some noticeable side effects and I realized I needed more healing. I continued to trudge on, added some exercise into my routine and started to take care of myself spiritually, emotionally, and physically. About a year into it, I looked back and was amazed at how far I’d come. 

Whether it be from cancer, from grief, or from the end of a relationship, there is no quick fix for healing. That being said, you do have a choice in how it is to happen. I made a choice amidst some pretty devastating circumstances, to live again. I made the choice to believe in healing, to believe that I was lovable, and that I could make part two of my life so much better than part one. 

Today I am married to the man that was standing in the restaurant waiting for me. I continue to seek therapy as I need it, and I continue to take care of myself spiritually, physically and emotionally. I know not everyone’s circumstances are the same as mine, but what I do know is that making the choice to do the hard work of healing allows for so much beauty to come after the tragedy. Following the deep, dark moments of my life that entered that Sunday morning, I can say with satisfaction, I won. I chose to be better, not bitter.

Kristin is a 44 year old elementary school teacher living in San Diego, California. She is a native San Diegan who loves all things sports, hiking, and animals. She loves living life with her husband Hugh, her two stepdaughters, three grand babies and her three dogs. Kristin has been cancer free since December 2005 and she is a 2015 Cervivor School graduate.

Processing Cancer as a Family

It was 10 years ago that I heard those four words that changed my life… “You have cervical cancer.” Little did I know that my children’s lives would forever be affected. As a single mom, I’ve been the only caregiver my children have. So when I was told I had cancer, I wondered, “Now what?” This wasn’t just a cold, this was cancer. Who would care for them?

I choose to remain open with my children. But when I mention to them that I have a routine appointment coming up, they ask a lot of questions:

“Why you have to go to the doctor again?”

“Is it back?”

“I don’t understand, why do you have to go back?”

I often answer vaguely, not putting too much thought into it. But then my youngest, who is more vocal than my oldest, told me she couldn’t sleep thinking about me going to the doctor. This is when I realized just how much my cancer diagnosis affected them. Even to this day my children are terrified when I mention that I have a doctor’s appointment, or any health-related appointment for that matter.

People often ask survivors how cancer has affected our lives, but very rarely consider how cancer has affected our loved ones. Usually, when we finish treatments and move forward with life, a lot of people think that’s it, you’re all better. Many survivors never speak about it again; it becomes almost taboo among friends and family. But it’s important to realize that as much as it affects us as patients, our families have fears and anxieties as well. They need support and compassion too.

Read more about Edna’s Cervivor story here.