Last week my colleagues of the CCTFA Foundation and I joined many friends, supporters and members of the media for a breakfast event to mark the official launch of this website and the report that inspired it, Lives affected by cancer…800 women speak. It marked the culmination of a lot of hard work that began, really, when we launched Look Good Feel Better in 1992.
Since that time, more than 110,000 women have benefitted from our workshop, and over the years they have told us many things about the impact of cancer on their bodies, their lives and the lives of their loved ones. For nearly two decades, we have been listening and collecting their stories of courage and inspiration in our hearts and in our heads. We learned a lot from these women and in 2010 we broadened the mission of our Foundation to encompass the psychosocial needs of lives affected by cancer, which, quite simply, encompasses everything ‘else’ a woman many be going through with cancer, beyond the medical care of the disease. In an effort to learn even more about the social and emotional impacts of the disease, and to look at ways that we as a Foundation could help women address some of these psychosocial needs, we conducted a Canada-wide survey to hear first-hand what they had to share about life after a cancer diagnosis.
The resulting report, Lives affected by cancer…800 women speak reveals that even after cancer and its treatment, may women struggle to return to their “normal” life, or perhaps more appropriately worded, their “new normal”. Whether our body has been changed physically as a result of cancer, we are grieving the loss of life as we once knew it, or dealing with issues of fatigue that can take months or sometimes years to go away, like it or not, many of us have a changed reality. As one survey respondent told us, “You can’t just close the door and walk out. You’ll never be who you were.”
For me, although I’ve been cancer free for more than 21 years, the impact of the disease is still very much a part of my daily life, and always will be. My treatments and surgeries left me with nerve damage that requires me to wear braces on both legs to walk, and I use a cane to support me as my balance is now poor. Mind you, my cane is studded in rhinestones! But the lingering effect of nerve damage has meant that my quality of life is different from what it may have been. And while physically I cannot do some of the things I used to, as a result of my cancer journey I am emotionally and spiritually rich in life appreciation as a result of my new normal.
There are many women who will tell you they have emerged ‘stronger and better than ever’ after cancer, finding that the experience of looking into the face of the disease forces them to find inner strength and draw on reserves they didn’t know they possessed. One of our Look Good Feel Better Ambassadors and models, Line, recently realized a dream of hers and opened a body clinic, Nueeva, in Brossard Quebec with her daughter. With her breast cancer gone and her treatments now complete, she finds she has more confidence that ever before. “I went through all of this, imagine what I can do today,” she says. “I found out that I am very strong.” Our beloved blogger Dr. Alex Ginty also tries to focus on the things she has learned from cancer, using her experience to relate to the fear and anxiety her patients sometimes feel, and sharing some of the tips she used to get through the darker days of her journey. She eloquently shares some of what cancer has taught her in her poetry on her blog, Both Sides.
Of course not everyone finds the ‘silver lining’ to cancer. And no one should ever feel pressured or guilty to move on. Healing takes time, and the fact is, cancer does change you, even if that change may be in your outlook on life, or through the newfound inner-strength and wisdom you’ve unleashed within. And no matter what, we know that the need for support does not end with the last treatment, or when we ring the chemo bell. Though our hair, brows and lashes will grow back and many of us do return to work, for many women faced there are bound to be hurdles throughout the cancer journey. For many of us, healing and well-being becomes a life-long quest – it has for me.
I would like to personally encourage every woman who has had cancer not to be afraid to acknowledge that you still may need help, that some days are harder than others, or that you are scared that cancer may rear its ugly head again. If you need or are seeking support or resources to help you on this next stage of your journey, please visit the Resources page of our website for a list of places and programs that may be of help to you.
I’d love to hear from you. You can send me a note on this site, or at email@example.com