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The Shame That Comes With Surviving Cancer and Suicide

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

I’m in my early 30s, yet my body has already survived more than its fair share of trauma and tragedies, along with a few miracles mixed in.

• What is PTSD?

I’m married to a wonderful husband, and we have three incredible children (including twins). Yet despite our many blessings, I’ll be the first to admit — it has been a bittersweet ride these past few years.

What was supposed to be some of the happiest years of my life have been overshadowed by severe illness, unspeakable loss, change and overwhelming uncertainty.

I’m a suicide survivor andcancer survivor.

It’s two sides of a coin I never wanted to possess, but it’s my daily reality.

I’ve lost two loved ones to suicide.

Through a tragically tangled web of events, I’ve come to know and understand what it’s like to to live with chronic pain, mental illness, trauma and the generational repercussions of suicide.

I know what it’s like to want to die, and I understand what it’s like to fight with every fiber of your being to live to see another day.

Before getting diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkin lymphoma in 2017, I had spent my entire life battling an illness that was incredibly painful, destructive and life-threatening. Yet it was only visible to me, and it was only understood by a few family members and people who knew what signs to watch.

Going through my treatment opened my eyes to the reality that getting diagnosed and treated for cancer can be just as challenging and life-threatening as living with mental illness.

The pain and suffering are often only more visible in one, but they both can be equally destructive.

I know the pain and destruction mental illness can cause because I lost two loved ones to suicide, and I came close to losing my own life too.

My journey with cancer has given me the ability to openly share my story and admit the depths of my past struggles, no matter how shameful — in the hopes, it can help save a life.

Writing and speaking to others about my personal struggles with cancer, depressionanxiety and suicide is one small step I can take towards ending the silence that prevents so many others like me from seeking help.

I choose to speak up for those, like my aunt and cousin, who no longer have a voice.

The truth is, one in four people, like me, are struggling with a mental health issue.

Long before I was a cancer survivor, a mother and a wife, I felt daily shame for even considering suicide.

I still do.

Yet the more I’ve come to speak to those affected by suicide, I’ve learned that it knows no bounds. It does not care if you are rich, poor, famous, old or only a child.

Having the courage to say enough is enough and get help should be met with compassion, empathy and applauded, not stigmatized.

Through all the unspeakable pain we may face in life, I’ve learned there is always a thread of hope — if you know where to look.

But you have to choose to reach for that glimmer of hope every day, no matter how overwhelming and consuming the darkness grows or how often the shame tries to grab hold of you.

Shame is a powerful silencer.

Shame robs you of your ability to do the things most people take for granted. Shame is doubting your hopes, dreams, self-worth — even the face staring back at you in the mirror.

Shame is feeling completely surrounded by people, yet feeling utterly alone at the same time.  Shame is questioning why you’re still here, when others just like you were not as fortunate.

Shame is wanting to speak your truth and voice your unspeakable pain, but having no words come out.

Shame is urging you to stay silent when the reality is so many are also suffering right along with you.

Shame is desperately needing help but being too afraid to ask for it because of what people may think.

But I’m here to tell you that there are also seeds of forgiveness where there is shame.

Where there is great fear, there is also the opportunity for hope to spring.

I’ve learned time and time again that even in your darkest hour when life brings you to your knees — you can survive.

Sometimes against all odds.

That’s the miraculous thing about living through the impossible.

Once you can get to the other side of your loss, illness or trauma, you may be able to see yourself and even those who harmed you in a new light.

It’s not an easy journey, and I’m still struggling to find my way there myself.

But each time I dare to step out of my comfort zone and share my story. It’s a victory.

It’s one step closer to becoming whole again.

Surviving comes in many forms.

Any survivor brave enough to come forward and strong enough to speak up when it’s safer to stay quiet, is one more victory against the darkness that thrives when we choose to remain silent.

I’ve learned that one kind word or one selfless action can change someone’s day, life and even the world for the better.

I’ve learned you can’t tell just by looking at someone what they are dealing with inside.

Above all, I’ve learned the only shameful thing about mental illness is the stigma attached to it.

Follow this journey on the Hopeful Warrior

Getty image by m-gucci

Originally published: July 2, 2020
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