• Managing Despair While Sustaining Hope

    Personal Stories



    Guest post by breast cancer survivor, Kate Sommer.

    It’s been a long four months. No, it’s been a long three years since discovering, after 23 years of survival, that I have metastatic breast cancer (MBC).

    In April, weeks after finishing another round of chemo, we received the delightful news that our only daughter was engaged and planned a May 2014 wedding. My immediate thought was, “Will I still be here?” By late May, I knew something was awry with increased stomach pains and discomfort. The metastasis in my liver was active again and I began yet another treatment protocol.

    I reacted violently to the first round of Abraxane (a powerful chemotherapy) and landed in the hospital for eight days. My stomach swelled with 25 lbs. of fluid, while my liver fought both the cancer and the Abraxane. My small bowel also shut down in reaction to what was happening to the liver. Both caused tremendous pressure, pain and discomfort. With a compromised body, the recovery was slow and sometimes arduous, but I slowly got back on a routine of healthy eating, exercise and guided imagery. But I was so preoccupied with the physical symptoms and side effects, that I neglected my psyche and emotional self. I am a hopeful person by nature and a fixer, and I utilize both as a breast cancer survivor, but I unwittingly allowed the subtle signs of despair to creep into my thinking.

    Then I went to lunch with one of my dearest and wisest friends. The conversation rolled around to how I was doing, and with her, the question wasn’t directed towards the physical me, but the whole me—my overall wellbeing. She detected the subtle shift rising in me and asked that rather than focusing on how this treatment was causing me to suffer that I instead consider saying to myself, “Why not remission with Abraxane?” She suggested that I allow myself to feel that possibility, that this treatment could help and let it rewrite the script that had been formalizing in my head—a draft influenced by despair, not hope. It was the jolt I needed. Openly talking about despair allowed release.

    So why am I reluctant to share despair with others? If I am honest with myself, another reason why I overlooked those signs is because I have elevated suppression to an art form over the years. My daughter was five and my son 11 months, when I was initially diagnosed. They were literally brought up with the reality of breast cancer. I couldn’t bear the thought of my children without a mother then, and I still can’t today. I became masterful at protecting them. Those little ones are now 27 and 31 and I am still “protecting” them, and maybe it’s time to let them support and protect me when darkening despair overshadows my thoughts. I do know what it’s like to express despair, and how cathartic that can be. Other than my lunch friend and a few close girlfriends, my incredibly loving husband comforts me when I let him, but, I still worry about his feelings, and will hold back with him as well. Could my suppression be doing harm to the ones I love most? To whom do they release their own despair? Two questions to begin a dialogue.

    Maybe the lesson here is that I/we need to risk sharing all of our feelings with our loved ones and trusted confidants. MBC can be an abyss of despair to fall into—as we live with uncertainty and the big unknown. If I am living my authentic self, then I need to release the bad and the ugly, so I can dwell in the good.

    To learn more about Komen’s Investment in MBC click here.
    Click here to read more about Kate’s story.

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