Depression after cancer is a serious topic, and depression after cancer treatment is something that desperately needs to be surrounded in dialogue. Unfortunately there just aren’t enough resources for cancer survivors to cope with depression after cancer. I write this post not as a typical article, but as a love letter to you, reader. In the almost ten years since chemo, I endured countless dark days, dark periods in which I questioned why I, so meager and lost, was able to live on, and whether I was wasting this second chance at life. There can be no doubt that this burden is one any woman who has fought to survive could face. As such, I write this honestly and without restraint, personally to each and every one of you, in hopes that we might help each other see the light ahead when night is at it’s darkest, and that depression after cancer might change in stigma and response so that no one suffers alone.
This is for anyone who’s ever asked “why did I survive?”
My beautiful comrades,
I so desperately wish the truth could be different or that I could somehow, impossibly, change the circumstances for you when you needed me to, but I cannot.
You, my darling woman, will have bad days. Even after all you’ve fought for, all the courage you summoned to overcome whatever hardship this beautiful but dangerous world threw at you, you will not always feel the superpowers you possess.
They will come like thieves in the night, greeting you upon waking. They will be deeply seeded in your brain, and manifest themselves and prove their presence in the way your body looks, the way your work does not flow, the way you feel unable to express your true self. They may even stay longer than a day, taking up entire weeks, months or more, forming deep rivets of depression in the beautiful woodwork of your built life.
To call them ‘bad days’ seems such a silly moniker to the woman who knows their burden. It makes them sound the equivalent of bad fruit that we might toss aside and forget, when they seem more like proof of spoil in the fruit of our labors. But they are not, and nothing is spoiled in your beautiful life no matter how dark the day that greets you.
What I fear most as your sister and fellow warrior is that these bad days might make you question yourself or your purpose or your worth. I fear you will ask: Why did I survive? Why am I here? Do I deserve this second chance?
The answer is, of course, a resounding yes. The misconception that everything will be flawless and easy after you win your personal battle is one that’s not safe to tell ourselves. We are allowed, as humans, to struggle even after we have proven our own strength. We are allowed to forget all the divine lessons we learned and feel scared and heartbroken again. Even if we have become our own hero or a beacon to others, we are allowed to ask for help, to reach out to others, to fall and fail and have missteps like any other person. Because even superheros must be prepared to face yet another villain after they’ve defeated their nemesis. As one door closes, so the next opens; as one battle is won, so the next arises.
Life after your own battle will not, cannot, and should not be perfect. For if you had not endured what you had, you would never have undergone the transformational awakening you did. You must endure again, from time to time, like the bud must regrew from dark soil each spring. And though a bad day may pale in comparison to whatever life altering event you had to overcome before, it is no less precious, because it is our opportunity to stop, to reflect, to feel what it is we need to radically change in our everyday lives to return back to the strong, warrior we know ourselves to be. A small but divine glimpse into the sanity behind this chaotic life, a bad day, bad month, or bad year reminds us not only of our humble humanness, but our otherworldly power and capacity thereof to love, to forgive, to grow, and to evolve.
You will have bad days. You will question why you, of all people, were allowed to live on. Dear sisters, you must, must, listen to these questions when your heart asks them. And most importantly, you must answer with the fervor and fearlessness you did on the battle field, the hospital bed, or the cold, tear-stained floor…
Answer: “No matter where I am in life, this and every moment is MY chance to rebuild if I must, but always shine my beautiful, individual light out onto the world. I am worthy of this life, and this life is worth my love.”
Please remember, the bad day only exists to whisper in your ear of the bigger things standing just beyond the shadows, to point out when you are standing still, and thus you must ever continue onward.
May you ever move forward in love and light,