A Note from A Chronic Voice: It’s a privilege to have Sam Rose as the first contributor on this blog! So many of her points resonate with me, although I have different illnesses. One thing I have come to realise about modern society as a whole, is how black and white our thinking is. You are either this, or that. A winner or a loser. An inspiration or a downer. If you’re not ‘doing’ then you’re ‘slacking’. I am guilty of rigidity in mindset as well, but have slowly come to realise that life exists in between, and it is possible to embody both qualities at the same time. This depth is what makes us human and unique as individuals. So over to Sam for now. Let’s hear what she has to say:
Ever since my colon cancer diagnosis in 2010, my three surgeries in 2010 and 2011, and my subsequent diagnosis of a genetic condition called Lynch Syndrome, I have thought a lot about my identity. I have thought about how having cancer has changed me, the effects it has had on my emotions and mental state, and how on earth I might move forward.
How Many Identities Do I Have?
In the past seven years, I must have had hundreds of different thoughts about who I am and whether I have changed. And yes, having cancer definitely changed me in many ways, both physically and as a person. When something results in having part of your body removed, and forces you to think about your mortality, how can that not have a lasting impact?
The way I see myself can even change from one day to the next. For example, when I had cancer, I was a “patient”. Every time I go for check-ups or call my doctor, I am a patient. Some people might even use the phrase “cancer victim”, and that isn’t an identity that sits well with me.
However, even words that sound better than “patient” or “victim” are troublesome. A lot of words surrounding illness seem to be one extreme or the other. Am I a survivor or a thriver? The word “survivor” sounds like I’ve just about scraped through in one piece, whereas “thriver” suggests I’m doing brilliantly and everything is great.
On a really good day when I’m feeling confident and I’m writing or blogging, I might even feel like an advocate. Like maybe I could use my experience for some kind of greater good. But usually I fall somewhere in between the two extremes. Not struggling, not doing better than ever, but just fine. Just me. Normal, even – whatever that really means.
How Do Other People See Me?
The story is much the same when it comes to how other people see me. I’ve never been one for worrying about what other people think, but I think the words people use to describe me do have an effect, especially when those words contradict with how I see myself.
For example, some people have told me I am strong, brave, and even an inspiration – which in some ways can make me feel happy and motivated on a good day, but other times it’s an awful lot to live up to. These words simply don’t always ring true. When the way other people seem to see me is different to how I see myself – and even how I see myself changes so often – it can be difficult to keep sight of who I used to be and figure out who I am now.
The question is, how do I want people to see me? Would I rather be pitied as a patient or hailed as a hero? I think I’d just like to be seen and understood as what I am: the same old me, just a little war-torn and occasionally in need of a bit of TLC.
How Much Has My Illness Defined Me?
I don’t try to stop my illness from defining me. I know that cancer had a big impact on my life, and with my regular check-ups and my genetic condition (not to mention the emotional impact of all of this), it probably always will. So of course illness has defined me to a certain extent. My experiences have made me more vigilant, more grateful for my life, and maybe a little more impulsive. But there is more to all of us than our illnesses. And the different “identities” and words I use to describe myself are sometimes temporary. I try to take myself for what I am, and remember that the person who I used to be is still there.
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