Amongst a group of people laughing and celebrating, a central figure feels extremely alone.

We Don’t Talk Enough About Survivorship

Becoming a stage IV melanoma survivor this past year has taught me a lot of things. Having about 6 months of survivorship under my belt, I still find myself stuck in the transition between cancer patient and cancer survivor.

Surviving melanoma then what?

When you’re going through treatment, you can’t wait for it to end. But when it does, you find yourself sort of searching for who you once were and how you fit back into the real world. Cancer came in and shattered your life, and post-treatment, you’re left to figure out how to put the pieces back together.

I’ve really learned that we don’t talk enough about what it’s like to be a survivor. I know I’m new to this phase of my cancer experience, but I want to share what I’ve learned about being a metastatic cancer survivor.

The transition is difficult

Transitioning from cancer patient to cancer survivor is hard. On one hand, you’re so excited to be done with treatment and to have overcome the battle of your life. But, on the other hand, you’re entering a brand new phase. A phase loaded with mental trauma, fear, anxiety, physical trauma, and a whole shift in perspective.

Your friends and family want to celebrate

And you do too, but it’s not the same. I often found myself feeling very conflicted. I had a hard time getting excited that my melanoma was finally gone (from my heart, lungs, brain, and lymph nodes) because I was too afraid to believe it. The news felt too good to be true. While my friends and family were quick to want to move on to the next phase of my cancer “journey”, I was hesitant because I didn’t trust that it was actually over.

You lose some of your support system

As you enter the survivorship phase, those that surrounded you during your diagnosis and treatment likely fall back into the way things used to be. The overwhelming support you got will probably go away because people will feel as if your battle has ended. You’re a survivor now and that means you “won” -- maybe they feel as if you don’t “need” them anymore.

Misunderstood is an understatement

I battled the “just skin cancer” stigma my entire cancer experience. I always felt misunderstood because I didn’t fit the “normal” cancer stereotype. I really felt misunderstood when I ended treatment. I felt like people expected me to dive back into the real world and pick up right where I left off, but the reality was I had just spent a year and a half in a life-altering state. Cancer was my world for so long that I forgot what it was like to not have it be my entire focus. Now I had to figure out how to put cancer back in its place and build my world around it.

Cancer free, but never free from cancer

Survivorship is different for all of us. I’ve learned that being a survivor doesn’t mean your battle with cancer is over. I’d argue that the real work is just beginning. Ironically, for me, it wasn’t until after I was told I was NED that I completely crumbled mentally. To this day, I’m still fighting through PTSD and unknown triggers. But that, my friends, is what it’s like surviving metastatic cancer.

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