Emotional Ups & Downs

I am not a crier.  Never was.  My sister is a crier. We can’t even mention the movie Up without her breaking in to tears for 30 min.  And just forget about mentioning any movie where a dog dies.  In fact, she is probably crying just reading these sentences! (I love you baby sister!).

But, not me.  I never cried at movies, cards or commercials.  In fact, I balked at those who did.  I considered people who were so sentimental and empathetic, weak.

I am not a crier.  Never was.  My sister is a crier. We can’t even mention the movie Up without her breaking in to tears for 30 min.  And just forget about mentioning any movie where a dog dies.  In fact, she is probably crying just reading these sentences! (I love you baby sister!).

Enter Cancer.

After caner I can’t watch any movie where anyone dies of cancer.  Not a mother  Not a child.  Not a dog.  In fact, I can’t watch movies where anyone dies, period.  It send me in to a panic attack that can last for days.

After cancer everything feels risky.  Traveling anywhere, forget internationally, and even short domestic trips.  Driving fast.  Sometimes even just leaving the house for a dinner out or a night with friends.  After cancer there are many days were I just want to cocoon up in my bed under the covers because that is the only place I feel safe. Every accident on the side of the road, every news story about a shooting, every Amber Alert, every Facebook post asking for prayers, I feel like it is happening to me.

After cancer I feel so much empathy for others going through trauma that it can be completely overwhelming and draining.  I feel the pain of a death or a recurrence from cancer deep in my hear..  It is a stabbing, throbbing pain that cuts me to my core.  I feel the pain of a mother taking her child to the ER as a tightening in my chest that can take days to subside.  

After cancer I am a crier.  I cry at movies and tv shows.  I cry at Facebook posts and on the phone with friends.  I have probably cried more in the 2 1/2 years after cancer than I did in the 36 years leading up to it.  It feels unnatural to me.  Like I am being a wimp or not being strong.  But I know that’s not true and that this is who I am now.  I am a much more sympathetic and empathetic person after cancer.

This empathy is for both the trials of friends, family and even strangers, but it is also for their joys and triumphs.  I cry when I see my kids up on a stage during a performance.  I cried when I watched my sister walk down the aisle.  I cry when a coworker celebrates good news.  Cancer intensified all of my emotions, the good and the bad.

Feeling so many emotions for both myself and for others can be draining and it has also forced me to sometimes shield myself from others.  There are days when I have to take a break from social media or phone calls and texts because I just can’t “feel” any more.  There are days that I know I can’t show up for a party or a girls night out or a family dinner because I am overwhelmed with feelings.  I need to give my brain, my body and my heart a break, from both the bad news and the good news.  

The highs after cancer are even higher and the lows after cancer are even lower, and this constant pendulum swing can take a toll on even the strongest person.  Be kind to yourself, during the highs and the lows.

Ana is a stage II cervical adenocarcinoma survivor & Cervivor Ambassador.  She lives in Mountain View, CA with her fiancé and two children. She is excited to take on a new job next year as the Dean of Greene Middle School and enjoys spending time with her family and being an advocate for the HPV vaccine.

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.