Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Volunteering Abroad: Being Healed vs Being Cured

Right before my last chemo, I remember thinking that cancer was almost over. I assumed that once the doctors, the hospitals, treatment and tests went away, cancer would go away too and but I learned that it doesn't.

As time passed and the days of chemo were farther and farther away, my physical appearance started looking the way it did before but internally I felt broken. Now that's not an easy thing for me to admit. I'm the one who others come to to fix their problems, I'm the one who can do anything, I'm a 'yes' person, and I not only don't like admitting that I can't do something, I strongly believe that there is nothing that I can't do.

Cancer has left me with this void, an unfulfilled spot in my soul that needs to be filled. You ask, 'what does it need to be filled with Katie?' and I say 'Let me try to explain.' (<----- too much??).

Cancer can quite easily leave you with a sort of post traumatic stress disorder. During diagnosis and treatment, it is common to be in fight or flight mode and while everyone around you is struggling with what you're going through, odds are you're trying to make it through to the next hour without puking. Tomorrow, Saturday night, and next week all don't matter - surviving the chemical warfare of chemo matters. It isn't until the end of treatment when you have to deal with the emotional side because now that you aren't trying to stop from puking or staying up all night with anxiety to only sleep through the day from exhaustion, you have time to think. While you're in the thick of things, you almost don't have time to deal with the psychological aspects of cancer and I think that's why it feels so overwhelming after treatment (which is oddly enough when everyone around you takes a huge sigh of relief and starts treating you like it's over).

Secondly, cancer is about loss. You have to mourn the loss of a body part, potentially. You need to mourn the life that you used to know. In my case, I have to mourn the body that I used to have. To be quite honest, I have to mourn naivety. I liked it a lot and I don't have it anymore. You could compare that loss with the loss of a loved one; a parent, a child, or a sibling. I am not saying it's an exact comparison, but the idea that I am trying to get across is that a year after a loved one dies, you aren't 'over' the trauma and the pain is still right there. As time passes, the pain may not be as fresh but it doesn't mean it's not there. That's the way I feel about having had cancer. Sometimes I feel like my friends or family may think, 'God, why is she STILL talking about cancer, treatment ended over a year ago' but to be honest, the pain is still there. To be fair, once you've had cancer, your perspective changes and what's important to you shifts so the idea of being the same Katie that I used to be doesn't seem possible.

There is no right way to do this cancer thing and I mean that to include; your reaction to your diagnosis, surgery, treatment, survivorship and so much more. You have no idea if your thoughts are totally crazy or totally on par with what others think when they are at the same part as you are in your 'journey' (I still shutter when I write that word. I really don't like it). I knew that the transition period between patient and survivor was difficult for most, but what I didn't know was what I needed to help me through the other side of treatment.

A few months ago, I read a blog post by the amazing Terri Wingham. She talked about wanting to take twelve cancer survivors to India where they could volunteer for two weeks and by helping others they would be helping themselves. Now when I read this post, I thought I was just reading some of Terri's wonderful writing but when I ended up in tears by the end of it, I knew that I needed to be part of the adventure.

Going to India, looking into the eyes of a woman who speaks a different language, comes from a different background, and was most likely not given the same opportunities that I have been given in life, will provide a connection and a unity that someone who has never had cancer cannot understand and although we won't be able to communicate with words, we will understand each other's pain. The thought of that makes me feel the healing power of this trip.

This trip means a lot to not only me but also to future cancer survivors. It is so easy to feel the most isolated and the most alone after treatment ends because for months you have been monitored on a daily basis and now it's a simple 'See you in three months' and your body is totally left to betray you again. This foundation will help fill a huge void in resources for survivorship and a huge void in my post-cancer life.

I would really appreciate your help in getting to India. I am currently trying to fundraise $2400 to be able to go on this adventure. Any donation would be appreciated - if everyone who read this post donated $10, I would reach my goal in a heart beat. Donate Now

I realize that not everyone can afford to donate money and if that's the case, please spread the word about this amazing opportunity to other cancer survivors. This is the beginning of an incredible adventure for future survivors and an essential part of surviving survivorship. Please pass on this link

I know from having taught in grade school and ESL at my university that quite often the teacher becomes the student and quite often, I felt like I learned more than I taught. I anticipate that India will provide the same outcome. I hope to spread laughter and kindness and hope but quite honestly, I believe this is going to be a life changing experience where I will learn much more than I will be able to teach.


  1. SO beautiful and real. Thank you for sharing your heart. I am honored to have you as on of the 12 and I know the people on your life will continue to support and champion you. Huge hugs!

    1. Terri, what would I do without you? Still hiding under the covers, I'm sure.


  2. Katie- your writing is just right on the mark; I would give you all the money in the world if I could; I really hope you enjoy India and that you give in to let the experience change you for the better. I can't wait to hear what you have to say after the trip!

    1. Thanks Amy! I plan to blog my little hearty out during and after this trip.

      I'd be lying if I said I wasn't anxious about this trip but OMG - I'm going to India.