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Life Redefined: Grieving Forward

Post Published: 08 February 2011
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Category: Column, Life Redefined, Thyroid Cancer in Young Adults Column
This post currently has 18 responses. Leave a comment

When I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I immediately began looking forward to the day when I would be back to normal. That is what I was working towards, getting back to my old self.  It took me about three or four months to realize this was not going to happen. I was different. My body had changed in nearly every way possible. I was not going to get back to my old “normal.” Do you know how shocking it was to realize that truth? I was sad. I liked the old normal. Wait, no. I loved the old normal. To realize that I couldn’t have the old normal back was heartbreaking. I wept. I grieved. And I got stuck.

I wanted to go back to how life used to be but I couldn’t find a way to make that happen. You know what? It’s not possible. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is earth-shattering and life-altering. I eventually accepted that I COULD NOT be the same as I used to be. It just wasn’t possible. But, I still grieved for my old normal.

With time and help, I came to learn that it is possible to grieve FORWARD. What does that mean? It means I learned that I can grieve and weep and miss who I used to be and simultaneously move forward with life. For real? Yes, for real. Once I accepted the fact that I can’t go back to who I used to be, I could start seeking life. Here’s the thing, though—I had to take a step.  Here’s what my first step forward looked like: getting out of bed, getting dressed, getting out of the house, and doing something productive. No, it doesn’t sound like much, but that first step was HARD. It was easier to grieve for my old life without trying to live a new one. But there was no satisfaction in that. Accepting my new normal didn’t make me stop missing the old normal, but accepting my new normal DID allow me to take that step forward towards life. And I found that moving forward means moving toward hope.

The hard part isn’t the grieving over the old normal. The hard part is moving FORWARD while grieving. I had to take that step myself. My friends and family couldn’t do it for me. My doctor couldn’t do it for me. I had to be the one to make the move.

I didn’t have to live in an abyss of self-pity and you don’t either. We all deserve to live. My step forward and your step forward probably aren’t going to be identical, but take time and figure out what that first step looks like for you. Maybe you aren’t able to get out of bed in the mornings. Maybe you’re too sick to leave the house. That doesn’t mean you cannot move forward with your life. You can still connect with others. (Hello, Facebook, Twitter, and a wealth of other social media goodies.) You can still tell your story. You can still learn from others. You can still make a difference. Your life is worth it.

You can miss who you used to be AND live your life at the same time. But YOU have to take a step forward.  YOU have to move. Even the best doctors out there cannot do this for you. It has to be you. Here’s what I think you might find: moving forward means moving toward hope, toward healing. When we step out into life, that’s where we can start to make a difference.

What does taking a step forward look like for you? Have you taken that step? Are you stuck? What’s holding you back? Talk to me, peeps! I want to hear from you!

xoxo,

Joanna

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18 Responses to “Life Redefined: Grieving Forward”

  1. HDinOregon says:

    Great post Joanna!

    It definitely takes time (lots of time actually) until one gets a grip on the railing that can drag you forward. – Thycan makes you tired, but cancer, and its treatments, and medication, and emotional devastation, they all hold you back as well.

    I just had my 4 year anniversary of diagnosis (of thyroid cancer and throat cancer, and later that same year a possible deadly skin cancer), and only recently do I feel that I am moving forward again. (And yes, it took some antidepressants too, to kick me in the rump).

    So, here is a cheers to tomorrow, and the after, and the week after that, and so forth, and so forth!

    HD in Oregon

    • Yes, HD, great point. Moving forward takes LOTS of time. It’s not really something that’s going to happen overnight. Like you, I started taking antidepressants, too. Those helped for sure.

      Happy cancerversary, HD! Here’s to living life as a cancer survivor!

      Cheers,
      Joanna

  2. Michelene says:

    Joanna,
    Thank you for this letter today. After 2 years of struggling with thycan, 3 surgeries, radioactive iodine treatment, and a vocal cord paralysis from the 2nd surgery, I am happy to tell you that last week my Doctor told me I have “no evidence of disease”. I had the week long thyrogen/RAI scans/labs and LIDiet. It has not hit me yet that I am cancer free. I feel stuck in a ball of emotions. I don’t know how to restart my life. I’m thinking of everything…from all of my talents, to the past 2 years, including a job loss. I am still unemployed but cancer free now! I should “feel” happy. My body feels like it needs a jumpstart. The relief of being C free has not lifted from my shoulders. I am trying to move forward, but when you are looking (still) for work and you are tired…it’s difficult to want to do “it” whatever “it” is and it gets me so frustrated. I want to fix me now.

    • Michelene, CONGRATULATIONS on receiving such great news. I’m very happy for you, but I also understand that you feel stuck right now. Just because there is no evidence of disease doesn’t mean there are no effects of disease. Cancer can continue to affect your life even though it’s no longer in your body.

      One day at a time, girl. We’re here with you, supporting you as you learn to live with the new normal. Email me ANYTIME you need/want to chat: joanna@dearthyroid.org

      xo,
      Joanna

  3. HDinOregon says:

    Michelene,

    Hang in there! I’m rooting for ya!

    “Cancer free” is definitely excellent news, I hope the rest of your life will fall in place soon.

    HD

  4. Tonia Maitland says:

    WOW Thank You! I myself have been STUCK for 3 years wishing my old self back before the thyroid cancer, and this is just what I needed to give me that boost to get myself out of this self pity and start living my NEW life Thank you

    • Tonia, I am so glad to hear you’re ready to move forward. THAT’S NOT AN EASY DECISION! Kudos for making it. It is a process to be sure. I hope you’ll keep us updated on how you’re progressing with LIFE.

      Xs and Os,
      Joanna

  5. Christine says:

    Thank you Joanna–I needed to read this tonight! I just had my one year anniversary of my thcya diagnosis this past weekend, and I’m still trying to figure out how to adapt to some of the new me. Your post hit home. While I don’t feel like my old self, I don’t want to get stuck grieving what I’ve lost since I can never get it back–it took off with my cancerous thyroid.
    I’m trying to avoid the abyss, but it’s hard when I still don’t feel “right” and struggle with remembering things. I’m working on it, but I think I’ll just be a work in progress as I navigate this stage of my life! I’m thinking about planning a trip to a warm beach before the winter is over to shake things up a bit.

    Thanks again, and hang in there…

    Christine

    • Christine, I’m proud of you for speaking out about how thyroid cancer has affected your life. Personally, speaking out about my disease helps me to move forward. It’s OKAY to miss your old self. But it’s also very important to take the time to learn who you are now. It takes time. We’re here for you and will support you through this. If you ever want to talk, don’t hesitate to email me at joanna@dearthyroid.org.

      xoxo,
      Joanna

  6. Melissa Travis says:

    Beautiful. Love the idea of grieving forward. Love the idea that we’re allowed to miss our lives AND live at the same time.
    xoxo
    M

  7. Laura H says:

    This is a great one girl!! Its true for family members, and even friends, of cancer patients. Between you and my dad’s cancer battles, I know I am forever changed. I think its taught me to love more, forgive quickly, and be a better friend, daughter, sister, etc.

    I am proud of how far you have come!!

    Love you, Friend!

  8. Erin says:

    I love this post as well. Life is all about adjusting to the new “normal” – whether it’s a new job, new baby, new marriage, or yes, ThyCa diagnosis. I too have definitely grieved for my old sense of normal, peace of mind and former self. But I do know that this new self might have cancer (which is hopefully gone come the scan this week!), but I have all new power and a new sense of self too. Thanks, Joanna, for the reminder to grieve forward 🙂

  9. “Your life is worth it.”
    Such a great reminder. Thank-you. 🙂

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