Being a cancer survivor is hard

Let me start by saying I feel a little bit guilty about the title of this post. I realize there are so many people out there fighting hard for their lives and they would do anything to be cancer free. I also understand my cancer diagnosis could’ve turned out much worse and I don’t take that for granted. At the same time, it’s sometimes hard to be thankful for a title I never wanted in the first place. Who actually wants to be a cancer survivor? Only people who were unlucky enough to be diagnosed in the first place, I guess. I went through this terrible experience that forced me to think about death at 25 years old and now that it’s over, I find myself still searching for those “sunny skies ahead.”

It’s been tough for me to go back to “normal” life, especially since I don’t even know what that means anymore. People constantly tell me how happy I must be and, at times, it feels other people have set this impossible standard for me to live up to. That’s why, even on my bad days, I’d force a smile and agree cheerfully that life is great. It felt wrong for me to have a bad day because how could I possibly be sad now that I’m cancer free? I didn’t think anyone would ever understand because I didn’t understand it myself. I made it my goal to get through everyday with a smile, but the second I’d walk into my apartment after work, all the emotions I had suppressed all day would come flooding out. Many times I wouldn’t even make it to my apartment before tears would be rushing down my face. This entire year has been such an unexpected emotional roller coaster. I’m sure these emotions were partly due to the effects that cancer had on just about every aspect of my life- mentally, physically, emotionally, financially… and partly due to the fact that I don’t think I ever fully processed what I went through.

How exactly is someone supposed to process a huge, life-altering event like fighting cancer? It’s still hard for me to believe that any of it even happened. I continually push it to the back of my mind and even forget about it sometimes. That is, until the neuropathy starts to bother me, or I see any one of my scars glaring back at me in the mirror, or a past-due medical bill shows up in the mail. Then it magically feels all too real again.

The one thing I found motivation in was helping others. It sounds cheesy and probably made up, but honestly, it’s what has gotten me through these past 6 months. I made it my mission to turn this awful thing that happened to me into something positive. It all started with my Warrior Bag project where I’d send out tote bags full of goodies to other cancer patients. I put my heart and soul into those bags and it took every bit of my energy… and I loved every second of it. I also helped my young friend, David, raise about $5,000 for pediatric cancer research in memory of his friend, Hunter. I even offered to shave my newly growing hair if we met our goal of $10k. That’s how badly I wanted to help. Directly after that, I got involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and raised over $25,000 in 10 weeks. When I say I worked tirelessly on this fundraising campaign, I absolutely mean it. I spent every minute of free time I had planning events and soliciting donations. My days off were not at all “days off.”

I don’t bring any of this up to brag about what I’ve done or to get recognition. That was never my intention. Instead, it’s quite the opposite. I’m finally throwing in the towel and admitting defeat. Even though I’m so proud of each of my fundraising/charity ventures, I can’t continue helping others until I take care of myself. It’s like when you get on an airplane and the flight attendants remind you that if the pressure drops, you must secure your own oxygen mask before you help others. Well, my oxygen mask is still hanging from the ceiling and the more masks I secure on those around me, the more I find myself gasping for air.

This past week has been my very first week all year without any kind of fundraising or charity event to work on and I’ve spent most of it sick in bed. I started feeling sick just two days after my last fundraiser ended. I know it’s my body’s way of telling me I need to take a step back and reevaluate my priorities. I think my body has been trying to tell me this for a while, but I’m apparently stubborn and even a cancer diagnosis didn’t immediately send the message. I’m ready to listen now and I know what I need to do.

First and foremost, I need to start being a little more selfish with my spare time. I need to figure out how to pay off my own medical bills and get back on my feet financially instead of raising tens of thousands of dollars for other charities. I need to take time to hang out with my friends who have been so patient with me and my busy schedule. I need to find out what truly makes me happy and start focussing on those things instead of trying so hard to make other people happy. I need to get rid of the stress in my life because being as stressed out as I have been is only going to cause me to get sick. Again.

Too often, we are pressured into pretending our lives are perfect, forcing that smile, and keeping our issues quiet. When I originally wrote the first draft of this a few weeks ago, I had no intention of actually posting it. There are a lot of things I write about that I prefer to keep private and this was one of them. When I first started this cancer journey (for lack of a better term), I promised to be real and honest and after thinking about it for a few weeks, I decided I need to share this post in order to keep that promise. Maybe I’m the only one who is struggling with life after cancer, but maybe there is someone else out there who can relate and needs to know they’re not alone.

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68 thoughts on “Being a cancer survivor is hard

    1. Crystal – I’m even more proud of and happy for you. I too, like others, have just had a life changing sadness. I’ve felt better helping others but am beginning to try to think of myself first and not feel guilty. I think you may be suffering some grief about the loss of your former self. I think you are on the correct path now and only hope you rest and be the best and real Crystal you can .

    2. Take your time. And take care of you. Your are still grieving and processing what you’ve been through. God bless you!!

  1. I happen to believe that you are not only strong to face what you have (are) going through, you are an inspiration to many others. You may not know it now but it will manifest itself in the not to distant future. Stay Crystal STRONG and never give up on ANYTHING. You got THIS!!!!!

  2. Crystal, you are still helping others just by setting a good example of taking care of you! YOU need the love too! Let God carry you for a little bit! He does anyway! 😉
    Please know I am praying for you! God loves you!

  3. You definitely need to take care of YOU. Come over and we will go to the pool and just sit and relax.

  4. Crystal, it took real courage to do this post. You are EXACTLY on the right path, taking care of yourself first. You will build your strength, and be able to truly live life to the fullest.
    One step at a time, and you will reach a state of happiness and contentment, and be able to take on all future challenges.
    God bless you.

  5. Hang in there Crystal. I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster for almost a year… This time. You helped me so much and this is when support is so important! Start strong, slow down and make time for you everyday! I try to remind myself of the same thing. Still keeping you in my prayers! ❤️

  6. All of us survivors understand. After 18 years I still get teary. I lost 2 friends to cancer & went through the “why did I survive” thoughts. I came to the conclusion that the powers that be had other plans for me. Take your time to heal. Nothing will be the same as before so don’t expect it to be. While you were on your “journey” the world kept turning and now you either have to try to catch up or just jump back in and start swimming. There are lots of us that appreciate you, your blog and your new life. Thank God for Survivors! Hugs

  7. Gf, as someone that has been on this journey with you and have had medical issues and been a caregiver to family with health issues I totally understand where you’re coming from. Listen to your body and take a step back, and we’ll be here for you always. Wyoming fan🌬

  8. You were never alone. Listen to what your body is telling you always. Thanks as always for sharing. Prayers continue from one survivor for anpther.

  9. Crystal my love…beautifully written and I hope cathartic for you. This is all a part of the journey, whether it has the label ‘cancer’ attached to it or not. It is not bad thing to be selfish. It is bad to ignore when you NEED to be selfish and step back. You heard your body and you are respecting what it is saying to you. Congratulations on yet another life lesson learnt. We don’t stop learning these life lessons until our last breath. Keep up the writing even if you don’t post it. These are all mindful steps that will serve you well. Love and light from Brisbane, Australia.

  10. Over the years I have realized that if I don’t rest and have quiet days just for me I tend to get sick and very agrivated with others! Please take care of yourself! You have been through so much. Try to have some alone time for yourself each day. ❤️

  11. I agree, put your “oxygen mask” on first. You’ve been through a tough year, then hit the ground running as soon as you got back here. Take time to relax & enjoy life now. Work on what makes Crystal happy. We’re all happy you’re back, but we want you well. You have the rest of your life to do all those other things!

  12. Beautifully written Crystal!! I to am at a loss of what to do now??!! I totally understand everything you said! Take care of yourself though!! Rest when you can and don’t do to much!!! My body is still recovering from all this with so much more to come. I would have never thought I would be where I am now!! Stay strong!! ❤️❤️❤️

  13. While it was so hard to see you in this state I have to send you my sigh of relief that you are allowing yourself a step down from the “podium of strength” and being a brave and intrepid survivor/warrior. (We know you are already). It’s so hard to resist the urge to constantly emanate the “I am thankful and all is well” vibe. Sometimes you have to quietly succumb to continued healing and taking the private steps necessary to push yourself closer to wellness. Cancer does not eradicate itself in one fell swoop. It ebbs and flows, both physically & emotionally. It’s a roller coaster for sure.

    We’re all rooting for you with no expectations of intrusion on your privacy. Wishing you all the best!

    Cheers from Sandbridge-

  14. Have you sought some counseling? Maybe you are dealing with some form of ‘survivor’s guilt’?

  15. Crystal, you are not alone! I am much older than you, but many years ago, before my cancer , a wise woman told me you have to be happy with yourself before you can make others happy. Work on yourself, the rest will follow.

  16. Well said Crystal you deserve a break for all the good you have done for everyone. Take some time for yourself let your body and soul heal and continue to live the life god has granted you.

  17. Stay strong, young lady! LOTS of love coming your way from Richmond, Virginia!

    P.S.: Give Elizabeth Fimian a hug and Greg Brower a handshake for me. I was a hardworking production intern there in the summer of 2002.

  18. I was the same way after my treatment was over. Sometimes I would sit and cry. I would feel guilty about crying. It truly was a rollercoaster ride.

  19. God bless you for your courage to be so candid and honest. Please take a time out to take care of you so you don’t get sick, again. Maybe you can stop, for 30 days, everything you are doing that you don’t have to do to survive, including blogging, and take that time to re-prioritize. And please, don’t feel guilty for taking care of you!

  20. Crystal, you deserve some time to reflect and to take time for yourself. Be well. God Bless you.

  21. I pray that these feelingswill pass. I know that since i had my lung cancer surgery and cyberknife treatments, when i go for follow up ct scans gthe feeling returns that it might come back. So far 7 years since the surgery and 3 years since the cyberknife treatment and i am still cancer free. You are looking great! God bless, John Loizides

  22. Crystal, I fully understand. I have officially been a year and 2 months since treatment, and two years since I was given the diagnosis of that awful “C” word. I have corresponded with you numerous times. I also smile a lot, but the neuropathy is bad. Especially in my feet. I have not worked in 2 years, and now I have medical bills in collections. My hubby has no overtime, and we don’t have enough money to pay regular bills each month, let alone the extra medical and all the copays for going back every 3 months to my doctors. It’s very stressful. I am 63, and looking for a part time office job. No one wants an older person it seems. At my last receptionist position I worked 9 years and never missed a day, or took a vacation. I am very dependable, OCD, and organized. Seems harder now but I need money for these bills. Just rest when you need to. We got to get our bodies back to “normal”. Like you said, we don’t remember what normal feels like yet, as going through 18 months of chemo and 7 weeks of radiation has done a whole lot of damage. I tell people that I now have more problems with all the treatment I’ve been through than before I started. It’s poison to us. Just try to slow down a little. Your strength will get stronger. I am just starting to feel better and not so tired as before. Take care, and your hair is so cute. Mine is curly only in the back, which makes it difficult for a style! We will get there girl!!!!!!!

  23. I know exactly what you’re talking about. After surviving cancer when I was 38 with my treatment was over everyone thought I should be so happy but I looked in the mirror and the steroids have made me gain weight I weighed 180 pounds my hair was short and curly I hated my metabolism is so messed up it took me over a year before my body would start losing weight it was really depressing time . Now I’m 62 I have stage four breast cancer but my attitude is much better this time I know I have to fight even though some days are painful but seeing someone like you so young fighting so hard I know that I can do it My faith in God helps me to persevere I wish you all the luck in the world the feelings you have will pass and your life will become normal again the further you step away from the cancer.. keep your chin up do things you enjoy and you will start to have fun and enjoy your life again 💗

  24. You have done your job. Now it is your turn. Take care of yourself. Relax and snuggle with your precious animals and start again enjoying life. That part is over. ❤️

  25. You are doing the right thing. You are the most important person you can’t help anyone til you help yourself. I’m a 5 year survivor and still searching for what my life was like before Cancer. I’m my new normal, I’m having a difficult time with this. As survivors we understand each other. I had my picture taken at the relay for life at city park with you and Ashley I’m sure you took lots of pictures that day.but happy to talk to you that day. I will be praying for you. Hugs to you. Rest and take care of you.

  26. God Bless you. Through your words, I don’t feel as alone. My family is there for me but it it hard to tell them why, I am crying, or how bad my leg and feet are throbbing, or why I need to lay around and do nothing. I will not even mention the fact that I am still waiting on the PETscan that my insurance keeps denying and that expands my anxiety level. Yes we are strong but sometimes we just need to break down in order to build ourselves back up. Enjoy your “ME” time. Well deserved!

  27. You’ll do fine you have a little bit of survivors guilt which is normal. It take a little bit time to work through this but you’ll make it. Be blessed. Crystal be blessed

  28. Crystal-I think you may be too hard on yourself! Even people who haven’t gone through cancer and everything else you have can get these feelings.Not having your family nearby can also be hard – especially when you are going through something as serious as you have. You are one of the strongest young ladies I know. Grab that “oxygen mask ” and take care of “you” first and foremost. Everything else will fall into place. One step at a time……. Love on those Furbabies too.. They can give you some much needed TLC!!!

  29. Ms. Harper – Words fail me, but I want to encourage you to keep on the way you’re going. You’re an inspiration to others, and your honesty about how you feel is not only refreshing, but I believe will strike a significant chord with those who are walking the same path with you. Cancer is a nasty disease; I lost my father, three grandparents, and several aunts and uncles to it’s effects. My sister is a survivor. The threat that one day it will come after me looms over me almost as if it has a personality of its own. That being said, for me the best weapon against it (or any other life-threatening condition) is to live my life in such a way that I can look back and at least see some good I’ve done for others, while enjoying the beauty that life has to offer. It seems to me that’s what you’re doing! Please take care of yourself – we need folks like you around us!

    1. I’m with you ! The survivors struggle is real, and the fear is always there. You said it so well. XOXO

  30. Crystal: You havenbeen through so much and helped many others too. Now it’s tine to take a step back and take care of yourself. We will always be there to encourage you no matter what you choose to do. Prayers!

  31. BRAVO Crystal! You are not being the least bit selfish! YOU should be your number #1 priority! Now, get busy with doing the things that bring you joy, and RELAX! Prayers that you will find exactly what those things are, and the courage to go after them.

  32. You’re just a good soul and that’s why you find placing yourself first, such a difficult deceision.

  33. You ALWAYS have to put yourself first Crystal! You have seemed rather down and withdrawn lately on the news I’ve noticed. It’s a good thing you are taking time for you and nobody will fault you for that. The community will still be here to rally behind you when YOU are ready! I’ve always told my kids to stay true to themselves and good things will happen. Hang in there and take care of yourself!

  34. Good for you, before I reached reading the part where you stated you decide to take some time off In my mind was a voice she needs to take time off. I believe we are guided and if we quiet our mind we can hear that guidance, you have done just that, Secondly I understand what happened when you took time off and you got sick. While in the Navy. I noticed it was only when I got leave did I get sick, An amazing thing about Humans is the uncanny ability to maintain health when matters are pressing like being on duty in the Navy and when demand of service ended then our body allowed itself to incur the actually necessary need to catch things so we build up antibodies. Its all part of the miraculous process even though it sucks to be sick. So don’t dispare, stay strong, life is a journey sometimes uphill sometimes down but own every bit of it. God Bless

  35. Yes! You are doing the right thing. Yes! There are people out there just like you. Yes! You can help people, but… Crystal, because of TV, you are in a goldfish bowl. You are beautiful inside and out while cancer is ugly any way you look at it. Practically everyone of your viewers knows someone young or old who has suffered with cancer and they see you, how well you are doing and think you are the one to help make it go away. You can help, but not by trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations of how to help.

    A lifeguard is supposed to save lives, correct? If 20 people were drowning in a pool and the lifeguard dives in, what would happen? Chances are 21 people would drown. The 20 people who needed to be saved would over whelm the only one who could save them and they all would drown. In many ways, it’s best to work from the outside of the pool…

    Because of my grandson, I so desperately wanted to help kids fighting cancer. Because of the emotional toll his cancer took on me, it took me several years to learn not to dive in, but to stay anchored to the outside of the pool and reach in to help. That way I could help many, many more people.

    Don’t feel as if you are letting people down or anything like that. I am amazed at what you, fresh out of treatment, did and are doing so publicly. You are not Superwoman, you can’t help others until you are completely healed yourself, physically, financially, and emotionally. You dove in the pool. Climb out, dry off, think about the future. Take your time and heal. I did and now I am a much more effective advocate. You ARE doing the right thing, believe it.

  36. Need balance in your life you don’t owe anybody because your camcer free you may have surviver guilt i couldn’t believe i got a blessing while other people died your always in my prayers . ed fisher

  37. A part of every cancer recoverer is some portion of depression from the energy left to some feeling of depression over relief. My closest friend had cancer and I sat through every single set of infusion that he had to go through. I even wore a bald hat over my hair much to the delight of the nurses. Afterward, Every day we out to see something he enjoyed plus then we ate. After recovery he lived a live full of joy. Years Later he eventually passed away but his joy was always full. Keep your life so…..never apologize but rest when you need to. You are so full of happiness that you restore my friend Joe’s good wishes. There comes a time for us all to sit and enjoy your happy times. I wish you the very best of all.

  38. I do hope you will take this time to take care of yourself, spend some time with your fur babies, rest, relax take all the time you need. If you don’t take care of yourself then you won’t be able to do for others until you first do for youself. Selfish is not a word that you can use to describe what your body needs. You have been in my prayers and you always will be. Love you sweet girl.

  39. Hi Crystal. You definitely need to take some time for yourself. Everyone who cares about you will understand. Take care 💕❤️🙏🏻

  40. Thanks for sharing your heart and your feelings! Praying for total healing of your body, mind and spirit ! My wife says you have a inner glow that shows.

  41. Take your own advice. We all certainly understand. It was only a matter of time for it all to catch up with you and so it did. Read the signs Crystal. Time to recharge your battery. Hang Tuff. John M

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