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.

10 thoughts on “My Cancer Recurrence: The Importance of Feeling All the Feelings”

  1. An absolute gorgeous and thoughtful rendition of her daily life as a woman, wife, mother, daughter and friend .
    She wakes and takes that first step each morning and decides: today is the day.
    With her mindset, strength, endurance and bravery Lyndsay can and will accept whatever lies ahead!
    With Gods Grace, love and conviction she will stand strong ???❤️

  2. your thoughts resinate with others on so many levels – stay strong – stay positive – be happy
    Donna Jamieson

  3. Lyndsay,

    Your story of strength and perseverence, and the attitude you carry, shows every day. It is a life lesson we can all learn from. We are so glad to have you, and for our kids to have you too!

  4. Dear Lindsay. I have stage 3 ovarian cancer. Right now I am dealing with the possibility of recurrence. It is as though you took my emotions and translated them into words for me. I would love the honor of meeting you! I make you part of my prayers and move on ahead. More than anything I look forward to my beautiful grandchildren grow! Thank you and bless your heart. ??

  5. Recurrance altered my being in ways the initial diagnosis did not. I am forever grateful that DFCI had psychosocial oncology to add to my treatment team.
    Survivorship isn’t the same the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th time around. But it is glorious that they can be.

  6. Your thoughts are my thoughts. I had multiple myeloma and had a stem cell transplant 19 years ago. You are always looking in the rear view mirror. I was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome in April of 2019 and have had 6 rounds of chemo and I will receive a bone marrow transplant in two weeks. It has been emotionally difficult but I have received so much support from friends and family that the blessings out number the cancer. A positive attitude is a must. I am so grateful for all I have. Whatever happens is meant to be and out of my hands. I wish you well. Take it one day at a time.

  7. Thanks for sharing your experiences, feelings etc. I lost my wife to cancer (ovarian) 3 years ago following a remission and reoccurrence. My most hated word was and forever will be REMISSION, due to the false sense of security it sends.
    I was myself, diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer in 2017, (I’m also a Dana Farber patient) and your words resonate with me significantly, both as a cancer victim and a widow.
    I wish you all the best in this journey you face on earth.

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