One of the conversations I have most often with people who are facing a life-changing diagnosis, those who are battling illness, and those who have overcome these illness is the “Who Am I Now?” conversation. As humans, we tend to be involved in a constant dialogue with ourselves, trying to figure out how we fit into our social groups and into our environments. When we find ourselves dealing with an illness, our idea of who we are can get turned upside down.
June 5 is National Cancer Survivors Day and it is a day that is spent celebrating the fact that more people than ever can say they are cancer survivors. The National Cancer Survivors Day website reports that 14.5 million Americans are alive today, following a cancer diagnosis. This means that there are 14.5 million people asking themselves “Who Am I Now?” in the context of a disease that exacts a physical, emotional and financial toll like few other human experiences.
I often have the “Who Am I Now?” conversation with people following successful treatment when there are feelings of joy, guilt and terror living in the same person. Joy at having triumphed over the illness, guilt that the price paid was so high (both financially and emotionally, both by the individual and their loved ones) and terror that the cancer will come back and the roller coaster will begin all over again. I am sharing this with you because if you are going through this now, it is so important to me that you know that these emotions are normal. And that there is support. You are not alone. You get to answer “Who Am I Now?” in the manner of your choosing.
Whether you were diagnosed yesterday or you beat cancer 20 years ago, celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day. Give yourself permission to cry, or laugh, or scream, or dance around your living room. Maybe all these things at the same time. Because you get to choose who you are, every day.