The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

This Is My Reality

by Rachel MihalkoSurvivor, Hodgkin's LymphomaJune 15, 2020View more posts from Rachel Mihalko

I’ve started to get burnt out recently. It’s like every day, I get up, I study for my summer class, I do my internship, I take maybe two breaks throughout the day, and I go to sleep. And it all starts over again the next day.

This is exhausting. 

Don’t get me wrong, some of the things I do every day I absolutely love. My internship here for Elephants and Tea, for example, is the best. However, my online biology class… not so much. 

I’ve found that I am incapable of resting. When I have a ton on my plate and I need to give myself space to wind down and relax, I rarely do so. And then, of course, I work myself up into an anxious state and then all I can do is wait and let it pass. I go, go, go all day long, and now that I’m sitting down and writing this, it makes me feel ridiculous for not taking the time to rest. I’m just working myself until I’m running on empty. Not smart. 

What tends to keep me going during times like this is the reminder that I’ve made it through before. If I could make it through, say, my first college theatre production’s tech week as a baby Freshman who was overwhelmed by her first college theatre production, still getting acclimated to school, and had a cancer diagnosis just a month away, I can make it through now. 

This is something that I tend to forget. Like, I’ve made it through so many different things that felt like the end of the world, even before cancer. 

And not to mention making it through cancer. 

It was hard, though. Cancer, I mean. I couldn’t ever forget that. I was in tears before my last two chemos, and the only thing that made me go was the fact that my life was on the line. If I had any choice, you know damn well I wouldn’t have finished that chemo. It’s terrible and exhausting and sucks the life out of you.

But it also sucks the life out of the cancer. It was hard to remember that towards the end of treatment. Especially when I was told I was already in remission with 90% of my tumors gone, yet I still have to do another cycle of chemo. 

Until now, two years after my cancer diagnosis, I haven’t realized that once I’ve reached that state of running on empty, a lot of unresolved anger about cancer resurfaces. I’ve tried to tuck it away for so long, but I have to face it eventually. 

I remember how angry I was when I had to do more chemo. That was when I knew I had to take a semester off of school. I would have to miss out on time with friends and just living like a normal college student. 

Not to mention I would have to get chemo infused four more times. 

This is hard to write. I’ve tried to block out a lot of that time of my life, and I’m overwhelmed with emotions from revisiting this on the page.

It’s not fair. It’s not freaking fair that any of us got this. I can’t put into words how frustrated I am. 

Fuck cancer. 

Fuck cancer and all of the terrible things that come with it. The friends who back off, the hair that falls out, the loss of energy and appetite, the disappearance of hope. That was my cancer experience. 

I haven’t addressed a lot of the emotional turmoil that came with the cancer. I wish so much that I could just move on. Just yesterday I was encouraging a fellow survivor that it gets better. You eventually stop feeling as alone and misunderstood in this experience that is survivorship. Here I am today, saying that I may be settling into survivorship, but I haven’t found peace with it yet. Sometimes we take some steps back in our progress, even though we’re still moving forward in the big picture. 

I think getting burnt out is what brought me back to this point. Getting anxious and overwhelmed brought up a lot of the pain that I have dealt with. 

I wish there was a way to just move on. To just immediately settle into that new normal and forget about the cancer. But it’ll always be there in spirit. I’ll always be wondering if a secondary cancer is on the horizon or if my long term side effects will ever cease. 

It makes me envy people who have faith. Whatever they have faith in. I don’t really know where I stand spiritually anymore. I have dealt with so much anger and bitterness towards the Lord, and I haven’t seen him in so long. 

But I’m still thankful that there are people who, in times like this, can turn to him or whomever or whatever they revere. 

Burnout brought up a lot of these emotions. It reminded me how isolated I feel sometimes because of my past cancer diagnosis. Not everyone can understand the emotions that come along with cancer. And different people deal with it in different ways when they’re diagnosed. I really wanted to be honest with this post. I want people to truly know how much cancer messes life up, short term and long term. 

Once this gets posted, I will probably be a bundle of nerves. I don’t let people into this part of myself often. I rarely open up about this. And to be honest, this wasn’t where I thought this article was going, but here we are, and I think this is something that needs to be said, regardless of what people may think. 

I don’t really want people to reach out to me and tell me how they’re here for me and they understand. Because cancer is its own monster, and it really screwed things up. 

What I want is for them to listen. I want them to listen to how difficult it is to go through cancer, especially at such a young age. I want them to hear that cancer is trauma. I want them to know that life does not go back to “normal” after treatment. Period. It changes you, for better or worse. 

I’m growing into my own belief systems and not taking everything said to me as absolute truth. I’m swearing. I’m letting out my anger towards cancer and the destruction it left in its wake. I’m questioning my faith. I’m starting to understand how dysfunctional parts of life can be. 

None of these things are bad. Cancer gave me the perspective towards these things that I have now. And I can’t say I’m grateful for that, but I can say that it is my truth. 

This is my reality. 


All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at

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