Black and white image of woman grieving

Cancer Is … Grief

Last week, I sat in my car after leaving an appointment with my breast oncology surgeon and gazed at the steering wheel for an hour. Sixty full minutes of staring blankly at a silver car logo. There were at least one million other things I needed to do and or focus on, but I was emotionally numb and disconnected from my body, so I sat in silence until I was able to drive.

That last medical appointment was spent going over details regarding my upcoming surgery, a bi-lateral mastectomy. Although, as I sat in the car, I couldn’t remember any significant details of what we discussed. It’s all a blur. Funny how our minds protect us by letting in what we can digest and putting up a mental barrier for the things that don’t make us feel safe. Cancer doesn’t make me feel safe, so my mind protects me, even when I feel like my body isn’t.

Cancer is grief. It’s a heavy, heavy, grief that ebbs and flows. It comes in waves and then recedes until the next medical appointment, or new diagnosis or updated pathology or song that reminds me of how wildly free life felt, pre-cancer. I am learning how to ride these waves without drowning.

Part of the grief is feeling great loss. Loss of who I was before I became the woman with cancer. I don’t grieve the free spirit I used to be, she still exists, somewhere, deep inside. I grieve the naïve woman who planned for everything except cancer.  

It’s been challenging but I’m allowing myself to feel the loss, feel the anger, feel the palpable sadness, feel the disappointment, feel the bitterness, feel the angst, feel the confusion, feel the uncertainty and despair, trusting that before it gets too heavy, I’ll be able to release it. In allowing myself the space to feel all these difficult emotions I’m making room to feel joy, optimism, comfort, laughter, pleasure, excitement, and gratitude. I’m navigating the complexities of feeling grief and joy in the same span of time. Acknowledging the grief makes the joy so very sweet when it blossoms, and somehow, joy always finds its way back home to me.

In these difficult moments of confronting tough decisions about my health, I’m accepting grief’s role in my life. Honoring the grief is vital to my wellness but I’m not going to let it become a permanent resident.

So, after my next medical appointment, if staring at the steering wheel makes me feel safe, I’ll do it for as long as necessary. If crying until my tear ducts burn cleanses me then I will do that too. I’m making space for all the feels, because I am a woman who is free to feel – everything.

I will no longer quiet my grief because it looks ugly or messy or loud. I’ll embrace it, knowing I am safe, and empowered to grieve in choppy, rough waves. Healing isn’t linear, so I’m gentle with myself. Always trusting that this grief is as cyclical as the tide. 


Kai McGee is a writer who frequently explores parenting, her journey through breast cancer, social-justice and self-care. She is currently working on her memoir. Connect with her via Instagram @onanaturalkai

Cancer Is… will be a monthly Blog where Kai McGee will explore thoughts on what cancer is and is not from her lens of walking the journey as a survivor, thriver and champion for Breast Cancer awareness.

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