How I Started Living For Me
Survivor. Thriver. Warrior. Fighter. I never thought I would find these terms being thrown around so interchangeably, let alone trying to identify with any one of these. But with the touch of a lump, a poke of a needle, I felt like I was suddenly reduced to an illness, a label. The word cancer now governing every aspect of my life. I was so focused on getting through chemo, radiation, surgeries, and moving from one appointment to the next that I lost a sense of who I was. As people approached me and asked how I was doing, I struggled wondering if I was meant to give the Kim with cancer response or ignore the elephant in the room and talk about life as it would’ve existed of Kim without cancer.
As I went through chemo treatments and saw my hair, my eyelashes and my eyebrows fall away and a part of myself that I had always known, I struggled recognizing the person staring back at me in the mirror. This stripped down raw version of myself no longer able to hide behind a veiled image. I experimented with wigs, embraced my bald head, learned the art of makeup, felt that sense of excitement as the stray hairs began to poke through, each one offering a sense of hope no matter how uneven and awkward they seemed.
But as the treatments ended and the bell had rung, I struggled figuring out who I was now. The celebrations had fizzled out, the phone calls and messages began to quiet, this sense that everything was back to normal now, but I felt so far from it. I struggled between being Kim the Cancer Fighter, Kim the Survivor, and Kim the…what was I now? I had been stuck with this big cancer label on my forehead for so long that I didn’t know how to identify once that was all gone. I went from fighting for my life to all of a sudden feeling like a fish out of water struggling to find my way to safety again.
Survivorship is a funny thing. This constant tug of war between this immense pressure to be strong and positive while also struggling mentally with mourning the person, the life that once was. The carefree days of blissful ignorance where I was more focused on what my plans were for the weekend then about my health and what my future may hold. Cancer the main villain in How to Lose Your Identity in 10 Chemo Sessions, The Young and the Breastless, and What to Expect When You’re not Expecting Early Menopause. I’m often reminded by people that something could happen to any one of us tomorrow but when you’re diagnosed with cancer, it all becomes a lot more real.
I don’t remember the last time I had a good sleep. I don’t remember the last time I woke up feeling rested. And I don’t remember what it was like to have the energy to get through each day. It’s been so long since I’ve felt “normal” that I don’t even know what normal feels like anymore. Even as I sat in my doctor’s office recently telling her all of this, the thoughts kept creeping up in my head questioning myself “have you really done enough?” “Is it really that bad?” It wasn’t until my doctor reminded that she could see that things were really slipping that it all hit me. I had spent so much time focusing on everyone else’s expectations that I forgot to focus on me and allowing myself to heal.
As time has gone on, I’ve slowly began picking up the pieces. Figuring out who I am and where I stand today. There’s still that hint of the same woman inside. The same laugh. The same smile. That same fire inside. I find myself embracing who I am and celebrating the small wins. I cut my hair for the first time. Did a boudoir shoot. Learned to love my body again. Returned to work. Traveled to places I’ve always wanted to see. And cut out the negativity in my life.
But most importantly I began living for me, not for what I thought others wanted me to be. A huge part of my life will always be this experience. This part of my story will never go forgotten. But I am learning to grow from it and grow into who I am today, two and a half years post treatment. Some days I may identify as a survivor. Other days as a thriver. And some days I just want to be me.
To read more stories about the aftermath of a cancer diagnosis, click here.