My Cancer Recurrence: The Importance of Feeling All the Feelings

By Lyndsay McCaffery

Recurrence. The word all cancer survivors know and fear.

I don’t know about others, but I felt I was the one who was most definitely never getting cancer again. I worked hard to get on the other side of my diagnosis and long recovery. I put in the work writing in a gratitude journal, hit the gym every day, and drank more water. Cancer was in my rearview mirror, and I was in control and moving forward.

Lyndsay McCaffery with her husband Jim and two sons.

The summer of 2019, I was having the time of my life. My husband, sons and I went to the beach, ate loads of ice cream, and created memories that will last a lifetime. It was right after this, on a beautiful July day, that I heard that word. The one I never expected and never prepared for. After seven years, I had suffered a recurrence.

Here is what has been going through my head — and some tips for you, if you’re going through the same thing.

What is a “newer normal”?

A question I find myself asking myself repeatedly is: What is a “newer normal” after you have already gone through a “new normal”? How are you supposed to accept that the life you have worked so hard to build has to be torn down and rebuilt all over again?

This time, I have found myself conflicted. There are moments of happiness and deep gratitude and overwhelming feelings that the world is going to swallow me whole and my heart is going to burst through my chest. The thought of moving forward is taken over by the need to freeze myself in time. I kept going and going only to be knocked down again.

What is the point of all of this if it could crumble again any minute? Life just doesn’t seem fair sometimes.

At the end of the day, how I choose to handle it is my decision. The ball is in my court. The question is do I choose to go the positive road or the negative road? Or maybe it isn’t that simple. Maybe it is more complicated than that.

Making room for all the emotions

I have had to accept all these feelings, as confusing as they are, and try to figure out what to do with them. How are they going to fit into my journey so far? How am I going to find a place where positivity, anxiety, gratitude and fear all fit nicely together in my emotional box?

This question has been much harder to work through than any physical recovery I have faced. This emotional recovery, this part of myself that often feels the weakest is in fact the strongest. This is the part where I am not ashamed of the dark thoughts; I am proud of them. They are a part of me, and they are my truth. And the truth is you can exist happily in a place of uncertainty.

Most days I am anxious, but I also feel joy. Sometimes I am angry but also incredibly grateful. I try and notice the small things. The warm cup of coffee on a cold morning, the dimples on my son’s cheeks that pop when he smiles, and when someone slows down and lets me in during traffic. This mindset has helped me down a path of being thankful for the life I have and not envious of a life I don’t have.

So, I say we choose to feel all the feelings. It is okay to be terrified but laugh with friends at dinner. It is okay to have a panic attack and then feel relaxed in a bubble bath. So, whether you have cancer a second time, a fourth time, or it’s in your rearview mirror forever, embrace all the feelings in your emotional box. Be proud of who you are and how far you have come on this journey.

Lyndsay McCaffery lives in Chelmsford, MA with her husband Jim and two sons. She currently works as administrative manager for Bright Start After School in Arlington, MA. McCaffery is a trained singer and actress and has two degrees in Theatre and Theatre Education.