Saturday, February 12, 2011


On Thursday night my wife and I attended a Survivorship Workshop at my local Cancer Wellness Center. After a nice introductory session with ALOT of big medical words and drug names, we attended two breakout sessions: Chemo Brain and the Myth of the Cancer Hero.

If you are not familiar with the term “chemo brain,” let me give you a little introduction. During chemotherapy patients often forget where they put the keys, who they just met, or how to multitask. Chemo brain was originally raised by females undergoing breast cancer treatment, but recently has been noted in many types of cancer across both the sexes. Chemo brain studies are in their infancy so it’s relatively not understood at the moment.

We attended this session for two reasons. One was to learn about how to sharpen my mental abilities post treatment, but the main reason was to confirm that chemo brain was for real and settle a little score between my wife and me...

I was sure I had some form of chemo brain during treatment. The biggest thing I noticed was the inability to access my mental thesaurus at any giving moment. Reaching for the right words became a daily occurrence and very frustrating at times.

However, I maaaaay have used chemo brain as a crutch when I said the wrong thing at the wrong time to my wife during treatment... My wife joked that it was just “male brain” which probably holds a lot of water! In the end, the workshop confirmed its existence and gave us some good pointers on how to regain my brainy superpowers...

Speaking of superpowers, the next session we attended was on the Myth of the Cancer Hero. It was about how society has certain expectations of cancer patients thanks to TV, movies and certain famous athletes that go on to do remarkable things post treatment... Lance Armstrong! ahem... ahem... Sorry, something in my throat...

We all decided the word “hero” was a little strong. One man noted that a true hero would have the ability to take on a cancer diagnosis in place of someone else. We also agreed that any of our friends or family members would have all fought just as hard as we did if they were in the same position. Finally, we appreciated how the cancer hero myth can be a little overwhelming for some survivors who think “I didn’t ask for this” and feel they now have to live up to certain perceptions society has of cancer survivors.

Our group contained mostly post-treatment survivors, but there was one lady, Evelyn, who recently received news of Stage IV lung cancer and was awaiting treatment. As a survivor in remission, I felt a little awkward for Evelyn being in a room with others who were on the other side of the fight. I found myself sharing nearly all of the lessons I have shared on this blog in the context of the hero myth to try and ease Evelyn’s mind a bit about the near future.

Somewhere towards the end of the session the leader asked us to summarize our thoughts. While the rest of the group was discussing ways to live with the hero myth going forward, my mind began to wander through the lessons I learned from cancer instead of paying attention to the conversation. Maybe it was my chemo brain...

I wasn't thinking about the pressures I feel from society's perception of what a cancer survivor should or should not be. I was more focused on how cancer was the reflection point that drove me to question who I was, where I was going, and what I want to do with my life. I thought more about the work I did with my whole life coach, the patience I learned, the fearlessness I acquired, the discovery of the true me, and my drive to lift as many lives as possible. Then it hit me:

I became my own hero.

It's the inner confidence of who I am as a person and what I want to accomplish in life. I remain aware of others' perception of me, but it has taken a backseat to staying loyal to the true me. This was an emotional revelation and I felt it necessary to share with the group, especially Evelyn.

I turned to Evelyn and told her that she should not worry about how others perceive her through this experience. Even though she is later in her life, she could take control of this moment and become her own hero.

What are you waiting for in your life to become yours?

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