A short essay I wrote for The Mighty about using fellowship to get through the darkness of cancer. I wrote this specifically to share with a a group of survivors in mind, although I feel it could apply to anyone going through a chronic illness.
When someone faces cancer, they are told many things by medical professionals and loved ones. One thing no one tells you about living with cancer is the intrinsic loneliness that comes with diagnosis.
Amidst the slew of doctor visits, treatment plans and messages of support, there lies the ever-present enemy within, the strange and dangerous passenger we live with every day for the rest of our lives. What this uninvited guest brings to our life is not only illness but a palpable sense of isolation. We become remote from our own body, thrown from our core.
Cancer forces the mind to consider what life must be like without physical form. How we are, just by the very act of living, trapped in a constant prison of flesh and blood. It can be difficult not to lose ourselves in fantasy about the “freedom” it must feel like to live without confines. What was once a given, our connectedness, become distant and distinct.
Of course, very few people are truly alone. Family, friends, lovers — most of us have and find comfort in these relationships. Love is a powerful tool in the arsenal to fight cancer. It is the fuel of endurance against a great enemy, a very personal foe.
Yet, even surrounded by love, those of us living with this disease regularly fight chronic loneliness. It is difficult to explain this solitude shadow within ourselves to those who live without it. This is through no fault of our own, nor those we care about. It is merely another condition of the disease. A cruel side effect of a toxic invader.
In my own13-year struggle with cervical cancer, I have found great fellowship with other cancer fighters. When the symptoms weigh down your sanity, they will understand. On the days when fighting seems a worthless cause, an empty pursuit with no reward but further pain, they will empathize. When your loved ones distance themselves out of their own fear for your life, embrace your fellow warriors and let their shared loneliness wash over yours.
We face a solo battle that each of us must fight alone, but we do not have to endure it alone. We are a sea of connected strangers who navigate the same rogue waves. Embrace the loneliness because so many who fought before us no longer can. Our inner shadow, like the one we cast on the outside, is a reminder that we are still here.
Fight for the light, fight for love. Fight as long and as hard as you can, for you are still alive. Though you may feel alone, you are never without companions on this difficult journey. Reach out when you need to.