All human beings have feelings, although at times we may not know exactly what we are feeling, or how to express our feelings in healthy and helpful ways. This can be particularly true when you have experienced an overwhelming and sometimes traumatizing experience like cancer, which may have forced you to face your day to day life in “survival mode” and triggered you to ignore your feelings.
Once a cancer survivor enters the post-treatment phase, they may feel that it is expected for them to smile all the time and be grateful for the extra time they have been given. Additionally, our society and the people around us may mean well by continuing their role as cheerleader – encouraging us to be happy and strong and upbeat!
This is important in the pursuit of a healthy sense of well-being, but, as a cancer survivor, you may continue to ride an emotional rollercoaster still unsure of what lies beyond the next turn. You may be tired of the cancer treatments, angry that your recovery may be slower than you expected, and frustrated that you need to do extra activities to facilitate healing. You may be upset that you have missed certain parts of your life and perhaps continue to miss out on things you once enjoyed or planned to enjoy. [Disclaimer = if your feelings affect your ability to function and/or your pain is so overwhelming that you are considering hurting yourself or others, then please contact your local emergency service and/or your doctor].
No one knows what your happy is, or what you feel, or what you should be feeling. Only you know how you feel, even though you may not always fully understand why you feel the way you do. But there is validity in even the confusion. We are all unique, and we cope differently with grief about what we have lost (e.g. time, health, functionality, sense of well-being and security) and how we search for new meaning and purpose in the cancer aftermath. Allow yourself the opportunity to experience your feelings; work through your emotions instead of avoiding them. This often nurtures and allows the truest and deepest of personal emotional healing.
Sometimes, a simple change in wording can make a big difference. Rather than encouraging you to “be happy”, advise your loved ones and friends to ask outright “how are you feeling?” and then giving you (and them) permission to be open, thus creating the opportunity for a joined conversation that includes exploration, healing, and growing.