Cancer Narratives: Cracks and Raw Edges

By Healing and Cancer Foundation January 20, 2015

Using scientific research as a springboard for discussion, CKN is distilling this research into practical narratives (click here to learn more about narratives) that will improve the quality of life for patients and offer deeper understanding and connection for physicians.  Please join this Doctor-Patient conversation about Depression.


by Anne Marie Cerato, CKN Young Adult Co-Editor, Living with Cancer

I have cracks and they are starting to show. Actually I’m crumbling. I tried an experiment, it failed. Or maybe it was a raging success, because I’ve come to the grim realization that for the rest of my life I will depend on anti-depressants to regulate my mood. I suppose that you should be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.

I wanted to see how I would fare weaning myself off of my meds just to see what it would be like to feel normal. Maybe I’d be happy and satisfied and in control of my emotions, because for 4 years I’ve felt numb. It felt like I wasn’t experiencing my life as fully as I should. I missed the raw edges because I wasn’t sure if what I was feeling was as intense as it should be. I was sad and happy but never “really happy” or “really sad”, which is why I suppose I began taking meds in the first place. The highs and lows were just so intense that I was a walking minefield.

Afterwards though I was even keel, but dulled somehow, at least I felt like I was dulled. So I thought could it hurt?

It’s been almost a month and I’m feeling. Feeling angry and bitter, sad and depressed. I actually hate myself right now. I don’t like wallowing in self-pity, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. I want to curl up into a ball and sleep. I want the world to go away and just leave me alone. I hate feeling this way! I hate that I can’t be happy for others without feeling sorry for myself. I hate thinking that my life has been a series of tragedies that I just happen to scrape through. I hate thinking that I should be happy because I’m alive. I hate not getting what I want, what I’ve worked hard for. I hate self-pity!

So on Monday I will fill my prescription again and hope that the edges will become dulled so I can be the person I was a month ago before this brainchild of mine, before I became myself. I will become comfortably numb like the song says and I will feel…less. I won’t hate myself so much, and I’ll go on. I just wish I didn’t need pills to keep me from being me, a me who apparently is bitter and angry even if I am grateful to be alive, because sometimes even that isn’t enough.

AnneMarieCerato
Anne Marie is a 36 year old lung cancer survivor. Originally diagnosed at the age of 30, she put her career as an educator on hold for treatment. After experiencing a recurrence at 32 she was forced to face what it meant to be incurable. Since then, she has become a patient advocate for both the young adult and lung cancer communities. She has spoken internationally about her experience as a young adult living with lung cancer in the hopes of changing the public’s perception of the disease. Anne Marie currently volunteers as a peer supporter and is a sitting board member of Lung Cancer Canada. “My goal as CKN’s Young Adult Editor is to represent the whole cancer experience and the range of challenges young adults face at all stages of the cancer journey, from diagnosis to remission to end of life.”

A note from Dr. Rob Rutledge, MD, FRCPC
Dear Cracked and Raw,
Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for your authenticity. Thank you for offering something real.

So many thoughts at once.

Firstly, I’m energized by the truth in this piece – something we don’t hear often.  We walk around with masks on, pretending we’re fine – when, in fact, most of us are hurting.  One of the benefits of the cancer weekend retreats (or any support group) is that people feel a lot less isolated and lonely when they hear others speak their truth.  Suddenly, it’s not just me suffering through depression or anxiety or fear or awfulness – it’s lots of other people. If we extend the idea further we realize that it is part of the human journey.  We can see it as a pattern – so we don’t need to take it so personally.  The feeling of ‘my pain’ turns to ‘the pain’.  Somehow that can lessen the sting as we begin to see ourselves as if from above.

Secondly, the Leonard Cohen quote comes to mind: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. My heart swells somehow when I think about this idea that we are all perfectly imperfect.  On the retreats we teach about ‘our already existing wholeness’ -and this wholeness contains every aspect of our personality.  We are whole already – whether or not we take meds to balance our chemicals in our brains.

Lastly, I don’t see it as any type of failure to take medication to control mood. In fact, I think it shows great courage and insight to go to your Doc to have the discussion. Look at the pros and cons when deciding to take an anti-depressant. Try going on and coming off. Figure out what works for you – and keep experimenting – keep learning.  Life will change again (that’s the only constant). Bless you for working at it – trying to figure it out.

I hope your piece is an inspiration for others to continue on their healing journey – which includes seeking professional help.

Thanks again C+R for being real.
Dr. Rob Rutledge

Dr. Rob Rutledge
Dr. Rob Rutledge is a Radiation Oncologist in Halifax, Nova Scotia, specializing in breast, prostate and pediatric cancers. He is also an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University.

In 1999, Rob co-created the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. These weekend support groups teach a powerful and integrated approach to the cancer diagnosis and ways to heal at levels of body, mind and spirit. To date, more than 1,600 people have attended the retreats in over 20 cities across Canada and abroad.

Rob also leads the Healing and Cancer Foundation, a Registered Charity, that freely offers educational videos, documentaries, and webcasting seminars – and he is co-author of a book called The Healing Circle, which captures the teachings and inspirational stories from the weekend retreats.
In 2010, Rob received Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Award for Excellence in Patient Care and, in 2006 Doctors Nova Scotia presented him with the Health Promotion Award in recognition of his contribution to physician health and health promotion in cancer patients.
 

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