After the Cancer Is Gone, the Real Work Starts: Britta's Story, Part II

Cancer Survivor Britta Aragon.jpg

This two-part article was written exclusively for by Britta Aragon, a lymphoma survivor who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease when she was 16. Britta discusses the alienation she experienced as a teenager with cancer, the eating disorder that developed during her journey to recovery, the devastating news of her father's passing after his own eight-year battle, and how these experiences led to her many efforts to help others.

Click here to read Part I.

In 1999, my father was diagnosed with colon cancer. He was my hero and my best friend, so the news was a huge blow to me. Still, he was full of strength and optimism, so I was sure he would get through it, just like I did.

I was right. He beat the cancer four times. After the colon cancer was gone, it came back in his liver. Then it moved to his lungs. Then his bones. The fifth time, it formed a tumor in his brain. After an exhausting eight-year battle, it took my father’s life in 2007.

I went through some really dark times. I had crying spells that seemed uncontrollable. I felt like I was in some other world between here and there, and not really present in my day-to-day life. And I was angry. Why should cancer have taken my father when it didn’t take me?

Recovering from Cancer

Psychiatrists now know that most cancer survivors go through something similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. I’d venture to say that many caregivers do too. And while our medical professionals are trained to deal with the cancer, for a long time there have been few resources for dealing with its aftermath.

Fortunately, cancer centers and hospitals are starting to put into place programs to help people cope. I highly recommend that survivors take advantage of these programs. They weren’t around when I went through the process, however, so I was basically on my own. In the wake of my father’s death, one thing came to me that would end up being a coping technique I now recommend to everyone – find a way to help others with your experience.

Finding Meaning in the Experience

When I realized that my new purpose was to reach out to others with cancer and difficult skin conditions, my life turned completely around. Suddenly everything I had gone through became meaningful and useful, and I had a reason to thoroughly examine all of my experiences looking for new ways to make life better for others.

To honor my father’s legacy, I created the Cinco Vidas blog, wrote a book to help the newly diagnosed called When Cancer Hits, and created a new safe skincare line for those with sensitive and medically treated skin called CV Skinlabs.

Working on these projects not only helped me to make meaning out of the challenges I had gone through, but it’s also helped me to build a new, healthy life for myself. Today, I eat a healthy diet that nourishes me from the inside out, and I have a spiritual practice that keeps me grounded. My work today fills me with joy and a sense of purpose. I love interacting with a community of people who experienced the same things I did and being able to do some things that I hope will make their lives easier.

Cancer changes us – there’s no doubt about that. But it’s up to us to decide who we will become.

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