No One Tells You This About Blood Cancer 

We have heard the joke about the 2 big certainties in life being taxes, and death. And while we can certainly avoid paying taxes for a while, eventually, the tax collector catches up. Death, on the other hand, is unavoidable, and the unwelcome fringe benefit it comes with is called “grief” for those left behind.

Grief is seldom mentioned

After experiencing blood cancer and the grief associated with the loss of my spouse of 57 years, I saw that grief is seldom, if ever, mentioned when discussing cancer. Yet grief is in every part of both a blood cancer diagnosis and the prolonged treatment journey it often involves. For me and perhaps you, the grief I experienced with blood cancer was remarkably similar to the grief I faced with the loss of a loved one – be it a spouse in my case or perhaps -- it was a child, parent, or sibling in your life.

Grief is part of the cancer journey

Right from the get-go, a blood cancer diagnosis not a simple affair. Your MD does not give you a pill and tell you to go home and rest for a day or two where magically you will recover.  Nope, with a cancer diagnosis comes a host of secondary losses. Suddenly, it really hits you. YOU are no longer immortal. That not-so-good news also can cause other losses. Make no mistake about it: cancer impacts all your interactions with family and friends. Then unexpectedly throughout the days and weeks that lie ahead  you most likely will experience feelings of regret over the many things in life you have not done or worse the things you had hoped to do.

Grief is normal

While undergoing grief counseling over the loss of my spouse I learned about something called “ grief ambush” along with some suggested ways to handle it. The best advice for me was to recognize that grief over any kind of loss is a normal process. I also needed to understand that grief can and will hit you often and long after you have convinced yourself that you are OK. Understanding these emotional ambushes are normal is the  key I believe when dealing with blood cancer or any cancer.

Cancer and grief isolates you

Cancer and grief are very isolating. Not long ago I wrote an article on the many challenges of being alone when battling blood cancer. I suggest it might be an interesting read at some point on your journey. And it does not end there. Both chemo brain and grief brain are very real. I soon discovered the impacts are quite similar in causing changes in memory, sleep patterns, body functions, heart function and more – My brain fog hit me hard and often and at the most inconvenient times. I suspect these reactions were not unique to me. Feel free to comment below if you have experienced similar reactions.

For better or worse, I have always been a type A type personality. With age I slowly learned the value of patience and the need to let life evolve vs. trying to reach a distant hoped-for goal or forcing a way-too-early solution. I only wish that lesson and the resulting enlightenment it imparts would have surfaced somewhere in my 30’s. Chemo grief and death grief managed to catch up with me at the same time. As you may have guessed I found myself losing patience with just about anyone and everything. From MDs and nurses to questioning my many long-term friends who disappeared at the mere mention of the “C” word. Luckily I realized the need to make a change.

Grief transforms

While the experiences of both blood cancer and grief can be isolating, exhausting draining, disorienting and more, I began to see the faint signs of a more positive outcome. For me grief over the cancer combined with the grief over the loss of a loved one was personally transformative. Today people tell me I am a different, kinder, and far more understanding person than I was just a few years ago. Why ?

I believe the answer lies in the fact that I now personally know, experienced and was made to understand what it really means to go through grief and deep loss caused by cancer combined with losing someone close to you. Unless you have been there, I believe it is impossible to comprehend what others are facing. Hopefully once you truly understand and digest what you have experienced , you just may be the ideal person to bring an amazing amount of comfort into someone’s life.

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