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Surviving cancer: The C word

Jennifer Chidester

When my reality changed from suspicious mass to cancer, I couldn’t come to grips with the “C word.” In fact, I outright banned it from being said anywhere near me.

Jennifer Chidester during chemo with her son, Tyler

However, I quickly learned that if I was going to fight this thing, I’d have to call it by its ugly little name. It wasn’t just Hodgkin’s, which sounds ambiguous enough, I actually had cancer.

Hearing it for the first time

“This is going to be hard,” my doctor told my family as he led us into the room. We came to the appointment just hoping that the giant mass that had grown between my heart and lungs was benign… but those six words stripped the hope right from our souls as we slowly took our places in the room. With every word after that my reality began to unfold.

While in the back of my mind I’d been suspecting that I had cancer for some time, I’ll never shake the details of hearing my worst fear confirmed.

Embracing the C word

Shortly after I was diagnosed, my cousin connected me with someone who was treated at the same cancer center where I was heading.

He gave me a reality check that I’ll never forget. This wasn’t a time to shy away from the C word, to pretend like it wasn’t happening. “It’s time to put your big girl pants on,” he told me. He insisted that I needed to face it head-on with every ounce of fight I had in me… and then some. The road ahead of me was not going to be easy, it certainly wasn’t going to be pretty, and the sooner I accepted that reality the more prepared I’d be to beat it.

I walked away from that conversation not only owning my cancer, but I believed I had it in me to take it down. Cancer wasn’t just happening to me, I had a choice in how I confronted it and I decided that dealing with it with my eyes wide open was the only way to go.

Trying not to be consumed

Cancer is more than a clinical diagnosis. Once you know you have it, especially as you’re being treated for it, your life starts to revolve around it. Sure, you have those moments when you’re in the thick of life — you actually feel well, you laugh with your kids, you escape into a book or movie, you find the strength to work out and realize your body’s not entirely broken — but for the most part, it’s not something that’s easily shaken from your mind.

From the everyday reality of living with cancer, to fearing for secondary cancers after you beat this one, it’s difficult not to be consumed by it. For me, this is where I leaned on my faith. The idea that God has a bigger plan for my life, that I can leave the future to Him and just worry about one day at a time, saves me a lot of angst when I feel consumed. Whether it’s faith, family or friends, it’s important to find something to lean on so you’re not consumed by your diagnosis.

Talking it out

Just like I didn’t want to say the C word at first, no one around me seemed really sure how to deal with it either. When I was first diagnosed, there was a lot of uncomfortable silence or trying to act like everything was normal. I found that it helped to talk it out. Talk about your plans, your treatment, your fears, your concerns and if you can handle it, leave the door open for those around you to talk about their feelings, too.

Image credit: Jennifer Chidester

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Parenting when Dad has cancer
Surviving cancer: 6 Years of misdiagnosis

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