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Angels Among Us

by Geri MaroneySurvivor, Breast CancerNovember 16, 2020View more posts from Geri Maroney

On July 14, 2015, my world changed forever.  It was on that day that I heard the words “you have cancer”.  Those three words kicked off what would become a year of personal struggle. There is, of course, the obvious challenge of first finding and removing the cancer, enduring the surgery, and the working through the after-care.  But what I did not realize, was that cancer also required a very long period to recover emotionally.  The emotional healing is what was hardest for me.

It had been nearly six weeks since my surgery, and things were going well.  My scars were healing and I was finally able to make it through the day without feeling completely exhausted.  Then suddenly, without warning, I was completely overwhelmed with unbearable feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, and dread.  The good news was that my doctor had warned me that this might happen at some point after surgery, so when it did, I knew what it was. It was PTSD.  It hit me hard.  Really hard.

Are you kidding me?  I just survived breast cancer.  I just spent 1008 hours in absolute pain, and now this?  Now I had to stand and fight this monster?  I didn’t think I could do it. I was still building my strength back and I didn’t think I had the power to pull myself through this new storm.  It almost crushed me.

Then a friend gave me the best advice ever.  She said that PTSD wasn’t really a monster, it was just a shadow.  It was just one more step I needed to take to finish my cancer race.  Just one more step before I could get my “warrior” status!  That was the incentive I needed to keep fighting.  I was a warrior, and I would finish this race a winner.  I earned had my warrior status and neither cancer nor PTSD would not get the best of me.

From that day on, I learned to take it one baby step at a time.  I learned to honor the storm of anxiety and fear by continuing to tell myself that I was OK and that I had the power to beat this thing.  On some days, it was one step forward and two steps back, but that was OK.  I knew that I had to give myself time to heal my emotional wounds.  Cancer came in an instant and it scared me to my core, and I had trouble trusting that it wouldn’t come again in the future. But with time and support, I learned to release my fears.

I tried my best to get my life back to normal, but there were days when I was still so angry.  Why me?  Hadn’t I been through enough?

There was one day when I had to travel for business, and I made myself a promise to keep my heart open for the entire day to see what the world would bring.  I remember saying those words to myself before I started my travel day, “keep your heart open”.

I had to catch a flight to the east coast.  When I travel, I keep to myself, and I don’t usually pay much attention to others around me.  This day was no different.  I made my way to the airport, cleared security, and headed down the escalator to the train.

Then I noticed an older woman making her way toward me as the train approached the platform. It was weird.  I remember thinking that maybe she thought she knew me because she was pushing her way through the crowd to stand next to me.  I didn’t know her.  She was a stranger.  We both boarded the train at the same time, and I headed to my usual spot toward the back of the last car.  She followed me and stood right next to me, almost shoulder to shoulder.  I remember thinking, “Geez, roll back honey, there’s lots of room, don’t stand so close to me”. I could feel her presence without even looking at her.  You know those people, right?  The ones who you can tell are staring at you.

A few minutes passed and I still had not made eye contact.  Finally, she spoke.  She asked me how my day was going.  “Good, how are you doing today?”, I said.  She was visibly excited and said she was having a great day.  She explained that she was going to see her daughter who she hadn’t spoken to in many years.  “We let anger build up and it destroyed our relationship”, she said.  She went on to explain that her daughter called her out of the blue and apologized for past hurts and asked her to join them this weekend for a special birthday celebration.

Then she touched my arm, looked me directly in the eye, and said “Don’t let anger build up.  Don’t let it take the joy from your life. Forgive others and forgive yourself.”  By this time, I have tears in my eyes and so does this beautiful stranger.  She was so excited.  I was stunned and didn’t really know how to respond, but I smiled at her and thanked her for her kind words.  She didn’t know it, but those were the exact words I needed to hear on that day. I thought back to my morning promise to myself to “keep my heart open” as I fought back more tears.

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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