After my diagnosis, surgery and completion of chemo, I went away with my husband and kids to a lodge we frequented for a weekend every winter. At the time I was living between CT scans. My life expectancy still seemed up in the air. The cancer might recur and require more treatment, or it might return and not be treatable. The cancer might even be still for awhile….only to explode later. I never knew. Any pending CT scan result was a potential terminal diagnosis.
I found a book in the library of the lodge that intrigued me. The title was “Saved”, it was written by William Hoffer. It documented the rescue of those who were on the fateful voyage of the Andrea Dori, an Italian passenger ship carrying 1706 that sank after being struck by another ship in a dense fog in 1956.
Many died. Many were saved.
What most intrigued me though, was the epilogue. Many who were saved suffered an emotional aftermath that lasted a lifetime. They’d faced death and survived, but their lives were forever changed. One woman experienced severe depression on the anniversary of the collision every year and at age 51 suffered a fatal stroke on the very day the accident had occurred, the very day she had been “Saved”.
This week I’ve received several emails from appendix cancer patients who were “saved” by extensive surgery and chemotherapy, but who are struggling emotionally. And I so understand their feelings and struggles, their struggles were, and are even now sometimes, my own. Unlike the survivors of the Andrea Dori, some of whom chose never again to go near the water, we can’t walk away and forever leave the scene of the trauma. Our feelings of vulnerability linger. We revisit the scene of the trauma with every CT scan, with every tumor marker test, with every visit to our oncologist. In a sense, it is never over for us, we always feel vulnerable.
A survivor recently told me her diagnosis and surgery felt like an earthquake combined with hurricane Katrina emotionally. She wonders if peace of mind will always be elusive. Will she ever feel safe again? Will her life ever be “normal” again?
Many I communicate with are treated with antidepressants or see therapists and counselors. I applaud them. They recognize they are struggling emotionally and seek help. They are not too proud to say they need help with the emotional trauma we all experience.
We understand the post traumatic stress and issues soldiers experience when faced daily with death and loss. We accept and encourage them to seek treatment for their emotional turmoil. We need to seek and accept help for ourselves and to address our own emotional health needs…..we have long been in battle and fighting a war of our own.
Our emotional recovery is just as important and significant as our physical recovery.