Sunday, November 18, 2012


“Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.” 

Of all the emotions associated with cancer acceptance doesn't get that much play.  Grief and anger certainly grab their fare share of cancer talk time.  Mind-numbing disappointment is right up there as well.  The same goes for the kinetic sense of shock felt upon hearing a cancer diagnosis.  

On the other end of the spectrum is gratitude. Totally problematic.  No one I know needed cancer to appreciate the beauty in a moment, the significance of a child's love, or the fleeting nature of time. Let's get serious. The majority of survivors I know weren't emotional or spritual reprobates before they were diagosed.  None of us, before or after cancer, are sensitive and luminous beings about every single thing all the time. That is too gooey for words.

And "cancer as gift?" We won't go there. If cancer's a gift my friend Katie Ford Hall said, "then I'm demanding a refund." Stop by customer service, thank you very much.

Acceptance is the middle ground. Acceptance is pragmatic and realistic, it means that cancer (or any threatening illness) is something I will have to deal with for the rest of my life.  Acceptance, though stark, frees you. It empowers you to take positive steps to address your diagnosis, from seeking a second opinion,  to making lifestyle changes after treatment. It means that you live with the knowledge cancer could return without living in fear of that happening. Sometimes I tell friends, as if to remind them, "you don't have cancer today." Acceptance helps keep our feet on the ground.

Accepting cancer in your life doesn't equate to being at peace with it; and it doesn't mean that grief is bypassed since few things in life, other than a ruler, are linear.  You can accept your diagnosis and be actively mourning the loss of safety and certainly your family is experiencing. Lost time hurts.  Acceptance demands that we look at the problem, rather than away. At it's simplest it is life on life's terms.

That's where I am right now: life on life's terms.  I've been thinking about this since Friday when @liftweights4jc (Jason) asked on Twitter, "Does anyone ever come to a place where they have peace about having had BC?" My answer is yes, I think so, but I don't know what your experience is or has been.  Nothing would be more rewarding for all of us, espeically during the holidays, to explore the question.

So I quickly dropped a note to my #BCSM co-moderators, Deanna Attai, MD, and Alicia Staley.  Were they interesting in discussing this?  The answer was a resounding yes.  I hope you can join us tomorrow night at 9 pm ET/8 pm Central/6 Pacific on Twitter.

And if you can't, I'd still love to hear your answer to: "Have you come to a place where you have peace about having had cancer?  How did it happen?"

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. You are such bright lights in my life,



katie ford hall said...

Another lovely, Jody. Acceptance, that's me. I think there's peace that comes with that. Freedom too. I guess they are all points on a spectrum. I will be pondering this beautiful writing.

Katie (who does still want a refund)

3laine said...

Yes, perfectly lovely. Acceptance of the dx doesn't mean giving up - it means that you've incorporated it into your life, and now, you're going forward - doing what you can to maintain your health, activism - if that's your bag, whatever else. Neither does acceptance mean you think it's a gift. We can't go back, we can only move forward. (of course if I could, I would) An excellent topic for today's chat, will try to get up for it! Thanks again!


Unknown said...

although i will always be in treatment, i've come to acceptance over the last decade. me and my mets peacefully co-exist for the most part. i'll never love it, or even like it...but it is a part of me. kinda like those chin hairs us old ladies get.

how i got here i can't really say. time i guess...i don't have time to worry about it. and the human capacity to accept almost anything over a long enough time span.

i wish i could join the twitter chat...this would be a very interesting read!

Jody said...

Thank you all for your comments:)

Peace does come with acceptance, Katie and I had it through treatment then through various stages since then.

I'm completely at peace with my cancer experience; but that of my friend's? And advanced disease in others? Acceptance of my own experience helps me move foreward. You're so right, Elaine, acceptace does not mean giving up or turning one psyche's inward in denial.

Thank you for writing - I hope you can join us. I'm glad that you have the presence and strength to deal with life on life's terms. I hope you can join us tonight,


Anonymous said...

Jody, this is a great question. There's so many levels of what acceptance is also and where one is with breast cancer. Indeed it is a great topic for #BCSM Tweetchat. I think everyone is going to have a lot to say! Thanks!-Susan

Anonymous said...

I've come to this point, too, and get strange reactions from others. I think this message needs to go out to those who aren't dealing with cancer. Probably the most difficult thing for me is dealing with the people who don't get it. And I know they can't-they aren't the ones on this journey. But we really need people to understand we aren't "cured" once we finish treatment. My friends were floored when my cancer returned last month, only two years post-treatment. And some still don't get it--they think that this time I'll be "done." You are never "done." Once you are diagnosed with cancer, it becomes part of your journey. I'd love to leave it at a wayside and never visit it again, but I accept it as part of what I now have to deal with. Do I like it? No. But to deny that it's here and I have to deal with it and do what's necessary so that I'm here to watch my son grow up would be wrong. Thank you for writing this.

Stacey said...

Interesting thought, Jody. I'm not sure I've reached acceptance. To me, acceptance comes with the ability to put my experience behind me, move forward and I can't do that yet. Maybe it's just my perspective. I accept that it happened to me, but I can't let it go just yet. It still looms large in my everyday. Looking forward to the chat.

Debbie said...

Have I come to a place where I am at peace with having cancer? I wish cancer would slow the $#@** down so I could come to peace and stay there for a bit. I find peace and then I dive down, then I rise up, then I find peace then I dive down, you get the picture. I did realize a long time ago...after the first diagnosis, treatment and depression...that acceptance is ultimately where i need to be to live my life. I strive for it every day. Some days, like when I am wandering the streets of Rome or sitting on my couch cuddling my daughter, are easier. Some days...when my next onc visit is looming over me like Voldemort himself...are more difficult. But as someone once told em balance is never walking a perfectly straight line - it is tipping side to side in an attempt to find balance. The beauty is in that one moment when you are vertical, just before you tip slightly to the other side.

Love what you wrote here and hope to be a part of the discussion tonight. xo Deb

3laine said...

Just another thought, encouraged by your response, Jody. It might be easier to reach acceptance within yourself before you reach it others with cancer. Need to ponder this more... Might have to do with control.

Lani Horn said...

jody, thank you for this today. i have been struggling with a sense of inadequacy, that i should feel gratitude that, in my heart, does not quite come. acceptance, on the other hand, feels attainable.

i am definitely grateful to you for your wisdom, eloquence, and friendship. thank you for sharing this.

Jody said...

So many great thoughts.....when it occurred to me last night that I've seen little writing about acceptance I began to wonder why.

The word itself has multiple interpretations; and this is only the start of a much longer essay I have in mind. Acceptance applies to many other things as well - other people, places or things we can't control.

What I can say with certainty: until I accepted the fact that I had been diagnosed with cancer I could not deal effectively with the disease, from an intellectual standpoint. When I'd flip into denial as in "well, it's just a little cancer" (which it wasn't) I'd think that the need for chemotherapy was overstated or that radiation on top of chemo was overkill. Since my cancer was in the skin radiation was not at all overkill but a necessary part of treatment. When I accepted the reality of the disease -- I could look at the information with a clearer mind.

And acceptance -- and being at peace with cancer -- are not necessarily synonymous. And they are far from static.

I like what Debbie wrote, "Balance is never walking a perfectly straight line - it is tipping side to side in an attempt to find balance." That so makes sense.

And Lani, I thank you. To feel inadequate for not bubbling with gratitude about this THING that has uprooted your life and that of your family? I totally understand. I honestlly think acceptace is attainable at any point of the journey.

I'm humbled by what the anonymous commenter said, about being at ease with her mets...and Laurie, all good wishes to you. Those of us so inclined - and who are farther along - are more than happy to continued educating those who don't have the disease about the challenges stemming post-treatment.

The first year following treatment was the pits for me; much mental thrashing and a great deal of physical discomfort...

Thanks to all of you for sharing your thoughts.

Unknown said...

I was diagnosed over two years ago, and after my one-year checkup came back and I opted to do a double mastectomy, I feel like I am just starting to come into the acceptance phase. I am done with any plastic surgeon followups. But the depression lingered, even after the appointments started to get fewer and far between. I finally admitted that I needed counseling, and I have been in therapy for the past two months. It's helping me accept the fact that this cancer can come back as metastatic soon or later down the road. I'm 32 years old and trying to figure out what to do for the rest of my life, and I'm only going to figure that out once I truly accepted what has happened to me.

Jody said...

That's a lot, Lara. It sounds to me like you're doing a wonderful job coping with having your life turned upside down. And the post treatment depression is something a lot of us have experienced. Thanks so much for reading and leaving a note,

Renn said...

Great topic. Acceptance is a big part of what helps me to forget I had cancer in the first place. That is, until I remember.

Facing Cancer Together said...

I often say learning about cancer was entirely surreal . . . I guess acceptance is the opposite of that experience. In my mind it's when we realize this is real, and we need to take real steps against it - not as punishment, but because we accept that cancer has happened. ~Catherine said...

I'm so glad to have it reiterated that cancer is not a gift! In the early days of my cancer "journey" hearing that asinine comment made me want to choke someone. Now if I hear it, I still think it's asinine but I can roll my eyes and not engage in choking. Is that acceptance? I'm counting it as such! I think I accepted the diagnosis right away but had no idea what it really meant. That was the easy part. For me, the harder part is accepting the new normal that is life post-cancer and figuring out how to balance the reality of recurrence with living my life on my terms and not in fear.

Cancer Curmudgeon said...

Acceptance is what I strive for. I will never be grateful for the "gift" of cancer. I used to feel guilty for being angry about having THAT, I was able to accept about myself, and then I forgave myself for it, and am a little less angry for that. But I'll always keep a little keep my fighting spirit alive!

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Unknown said...

Nancy, Diagnosed with BC a year ago. Pretty much got the acceptance I needed. 3 months after treatment diagnosed with rare sarcoma of uterus during routine hyst. .can't accept this. Fighting mad .. My head knows I need to accept but my gut is not there. I'm beyond anxious and don't know how to get to acceptance.