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Olga Lizasoáin Rumeu, School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

In the wake of the cancer hurricane

Sat, 19 Oct 2019 10:14:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

I am a cancer survivor and this makes me feel very special. There are many voices committed to defending that one is a survivor from the very day of diagnosis. I do not have the slightest doubt. Overnight you have the impression of having gone off the road, of finding yourself lying in a ditch. From feeling well, to having cancer; from control of your life, to the hospital; from professional projects, to medical tests; from leisure plans, to chemotherapy. The initial diagnosis is followed by a hurricane that seems to sweep everything away.

Without digesting this new reality, you have to face two giant steps. One, to undergo all the complementary medical tests and two, the communication of the news to your family and other people around you. However or whenever, this communication frees you and helps you to assimilate your new reality. The silence, the hiding, the waiting, the fear of causing pain to those you love the most, becomes a very heavy added burden. No matter how deeply you breathe, you cry as soon as you begin to utter the first words. This cry, this deep break in your voice, makes the other person get ready, quickly position themselves in front of what you are going to transmit, paving the way for communication. Your disbelief, your silence, your look, your tears, your empathy, your 'I don't know what to say', your hug, your support, your strength, your affection, your encouragement, your confidence and that I am here for you, are the perfect anchors in this free fall. In this process there is a lot of loneliness, although the presence, affection and closeness of the people who love you, are the strength to move forward with optimism.

In coping with the disease there is a process of internal mourning, in which a series of stages are identified that begin with denial and disbelief, present at the moment of the communication of the diagnosis. They act as a defense mechanism that filters the information and prevents it from falling all at once. As awareness of the losses that the disease entails is gradually realized, reactions of anger, anxiety, fear, anguish and rage follow, together with a feeling of incomprehension on the part of others. This opens a period of decay, frustration, loss of control and withdrawal. External agents are blamed to later blame oneself. Alterations appear in sleep, appetite, social and family relationships, together with a generalized lack of interest in things. Gradually the diagnosis is assimilated, although uncertainty about the evolution of the disease and the effect of the treatments will be present throughout the whole process. It is a matter of learning to live with the impositions of the disease in order to allow oneself to continue with the course of life.

After the terrifying cyclone of the diagnosis comes the halt of daily life that, together with feelings of fragility and vulnerability, accompany the slow journey through the path of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

I once heard that the two most beautiful words are not "I love you" but "it's good". When at the time of diagnosis you have not been lucky enough to hear them, the next two are "it's gone". You feel that immense desire to meet again in front of the mirror with a sparkle in your eyes and with an expression of life, which chemo, fear and sadness have been neutralizing.

They say, and so it is, that after cancer, the goblins of fear of relapse are always there, alert, activating their presence in a special way when the control medical consultations are approaching, or those days in which one simply does not feel well. Experts recommend lowering the volume so that they do not make too much noise. This teaches me that fears and many other feelings related to the oncological process do not disappear just like that. They are there, in some corner. It is complicated, therefore, to establish the balance between what you were before the diagnosis and what you are now; between the return to normality and the harshness of what you have lived through.

Thus, at the end of the treatments, you gradually begin to look at the world beyond you again, with illusion and with the perspective that comes from the road you have traveled. You are then invaded by the feeling that you will not have time for everything you want to do, to eat life in bites, or in small sips that there is no hurry, just desire, a lot of desire.