Holding A Youlogy - Dealing With The Grief Of Cancer

Grief. This is an emotion we usually associate with death and loss, but not necessarily cancer. The thing is, when you are diagnosed with cancer it is a sort of death – hopefully not in the literal sense (although it can be), but in the sense that your old life is gone. You are going to come out the other side changed, no longer the person you used to be, and that is a loss and just like any loss – it will take time to come to terms with. What’s the best way to do that, well, it might be to have a memorial for your old life and say a proper goodbye. A Youlogy.

Processing the grief that comes with a cancer diagnosis

I know, it sounds bonkers – holding a service for the life you used to have before cancer hit. Especially if anyone walks in and sees you giving the Youlogy eulogy. “I knew Daniel’s old life, it was a lot of fun. Yes, it could be an insufferable ass and was probably far too promiscuous, but it knew how to have a good time….”  Yes, it would be difficult to explain, but guess what? It’s going to help you process some of the anger, trauma, depression, and most importantly, grief that comes with a cancer diagnosis.

I say grief because just like any other loss it’s going to be the main emotion that you experience, and the funny thing is many people who are diagnosed with lymphoma or leukemia or any of the blood cancers don’t even realize that grief is the main thing driving their emotional distress. To be fair, it’s not something that immediately comes to mind when you are plumbing the depths of your psyche after cancer. Fear? Sure, that’s a no-brainer. Anger? Less of a no-brainer, a half-brainer let’s call it, but still a pretty safe assumption in the spectrum of cancer-related emotions. Even anxiety is a somewhat normal response to such a jarring event, but grief? It’s not something many people think about but it’s probably the single most important emotion to process when you get over the initial shock of actually having a life-threatening illness.

Something I’ve come to realize now that I’m on the other side is that my old life was gone the millisecond that doctor first uttered the c-word. Well, in my case specifically it was the l-word. Lymphoma, and as I’ve written many times before the doctor walking in and saying, “Good news! It’s lymphoma!” is seared into my brain like the YouTube video of the monkey smelling its own hindquarters that we’ve all seen 1 million times. Even so – c-word, l-word, or q-word, it doesn’t matter. As soon as the oncologist speaks the diagnosis out loud, you are done. If your old life doesn’t immediately lay down and die on its own, your cancer life comes up behind it and brains it, Professor Plum style. With a candlestick. In the conservatory. (Clue was on TV in the hospital at the time). Simplified, that means a loss, and losses need to be processed to be dealt with, which brings us back to the eulogy for your old life, or as I’ve cleverly decided to call it, a Youlogy.

Writing our Youlogy

A Youlogy usually starts with you talking about all the things you used to do that you’ll no longer be able to (at least for the foreseeable future). Mountain biking, eating seventeen cheeseburgers at once, sex – whatever it is that you used to do on a regular basis that is now verboten. You need to speak those things out loud and acknowledge that for now, at least, you aren’t going to be able to continue to do any of them. Now this sounds easy, but once you get going it’s going to be more emotional than you think, I promise.

Heh, you probably think that was the hard part. Unfortunately, there’s still another part to the Youlogy, and it’s the most difficult bit. You must come to terms with the dreams and aspirations that you will likely no longer be able to achieve. Yes. I know. Just reading about it you feel that kick in your gut. No one likes to admit their limitations and especially so when something as unfair as cancer takes those dreams from you, but it has to be done. It’s part of adjusting your expectations to fit your new “normal.” Does that mean you can’t still be successful? No, of course not, but it does mean that you’ll probably have to jettison that dream of becoming the world’s most prolific marathon runner and settle for something a little more realistic. This is the hard part, and it’s going to hurt. A lot. Unfortunately, the only way past it is through, and it needs to be done in order to help you realize what your new life is going to be like. I still remember the day I finally had to do it, and it was not pretty, but trust me when I say that you are strong enough to weather the storm.

Once you have held your Youlogy and you digest everything that was said, you will much more easily be able to process the grief that comes from the loss when diagnosed with cancer. Yes, you’re gonna feel ALL the feels, but it’s healthy. Mostly. Yes, from that point on you will always be a “cancer survivor,” and that comes with a whole new normal that will include depression, anger, and anxiety but having a Youlogy can help with the grief. Trust me, taking even one thing off your plate when you have cancer is worth its weight in gold. Talk soon.

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