Flame in the Night

Cancer is frightening. Cancer is frightening because it is all around us, in the media, in our entertainment, impacting our co-workers and our loved ones. At its worst, cancer arrives in our own homes causing our loved ones bodies to fail, or, on more frightening occasions, our own. Despite our best efforts of searching for support through doctors, specialists, clinics, hospitals, new treatments, and alternative therapies we sometimes succumb to the unseen but very present illness invading our bodies. The threat of rapidly dividing abnormal cells becomes apart of what once was our everyday lives. The word “cancer” becomes an uppercase term in our vernacular, occasionally three syllables long, as the first try to speaking the daunting word gets caught in our throat. Cancer invites hushed tones, imprints on our minds,  and can steal the air from the room. It suffocates all other feelings and creates a haze over our thoughts, draining the color from our reality. The kind does not really matter – kidney, liver, skin, or throat – just the fact that it is Cancer (capitalized) makes is frightening and larger than anything we have ever encountered in our daily lives.

There is an abundance of information available through every type of media describing how, what, and why cancers exist. There are specialists and clinics to advise, medications to prescribe, and therapies to undergo. We get fixated on certain cancers, wearing our colored ribbons and buying merchandise, feeling that we are giving back or fighting in our own way. But the daily toll that is taken on those who have cancer, who are fighting it, who have succumbed to it, who are living with it, or who have had loved ones taken by it, is hugely emotional. Not just fear, but anger, guilt, sadness, and exhaustion.

While many of these emotions are common, and expected, by those around someone with cancer, guilt is one of the most difficult to deal with, both for the individual and the ones around them. There are many reasons why this feeling can arise: guilty because they feel that they are to blame for why they have cancer, guilty for not having cancer, guilty for being a survivor, guilty for no longer having the drive to fight, or having the will to stay by the person’s side who is fighting. This disease is not only difficult on the diagnosed, but also on their loved ones – friends, family members, and partners can become caregivers overnight, which is often a role people never could have imagined themselves in.

This is why it is so important to have support during your experience, or when a person close to you is experiencing a life changing disease such as cancer. While it is normal to be faced with these emotions, you do not have deal with them by yourself, which can cause the anger, resentment, and guilt to build. And as our society becomes more singular, people are having fewer children, smaller families, and are more likely to be living alone, so it is important to identify early on where you can turn for help.

Cancer support has changed dramatically in the last twenty years, evolving from one on one counseling with your physician to family care counseling, cosmetology teaching groups, and a seemingly infinite amount of online communities (see more resources below) for those who are geographically remote or unable to travel for face to face meetings. While it can seem overwhelming, the best place to start for help is with your oncologist and primary care physician. Start local and look outwards for a style that fits your needs. And if the support you are receiving is not working, or it does not feel right, do not hesitate to find something different. And if it becomes overwhelming, take a break – support should be a reenergizing experience, not a taxing one. Seeking out and having support is key to self care, which is a large step towards mental and physical healing. So whether your experience with cancer is short, long, terminal, or peripheral, seek out the support to properly care for yourself and your loved ones around you.

To keep a lamp burning we have to keep putting oil in it.

Mother Teresa

For more information about cancer support groups, check out the following links: