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

You Can Drop the Act

by Ruzette SolisSurvivor, Acute Lymphoblastic LeukemiaJune 26, 2020View more posts from Ruzette Solis

It’s laughable irony that I should be in quarantine [once again] during my remission “cancerversary” after more than 10 years.

I initially expected to spend the day listening to a carefully crafted melancholy playlist and alternating between bitter and sweet memories in my mind. Instead I found myself rummaging through the previously untouched drawer under my bed, tossing aside expired saline, port dressings, and empty chemo pill bottles for any leftover masks. When that yield ran out, I had to confront the bandanas, relics in the back of my closet, and make my own.

If only I could look through these things without feeling like I’m walking a tightrope where if I fall I’ll wallow and spiral in all sorts of ways. But even so, this has given me the time to truly think about a few things. One thing about how cancer has impacted who I am that I wish I could’ve realized sooner.

I wish people told me I didn’t have to be strong all the time. As if that was the only thing I should be during such a difficult period.

Old habits die hard and I still find it so hard to not act strong. It’s hard to shake the tendency to act indifferent toward every misfortune experienced. It’s fine, I can handle it, it’s whatever. To maintain the façade that if I “beat” cancer, nothing else should stand in my way.

As you may very well know, the thing about strength and cancer is it comes both as a command and compliment. You’re told to be strong but you’re also mounted on a pedestal as an inspiring example of human will. (Perhaps I would have rather inspired less people if it meant having less cancer)

When you’re in remission they may tell you that you have a bright future ahead of you and they congratulate you but they never tell you that you don’t have to be the strong cancer-figure anymore. So you keep coping the same way.

Throughout the years the idea of being strong (whatever that means) remained embedded as part of my subconscious. A deeply planted belief that the years traded in to keep me breathing had to be worth something. What was it all worth if I didn’t push myself for success every second, if I didn’t keep showing that I was “strong”, if I didn’t live up to the stereotypical image of the cancer “survivor”? (Although I’m always unsettled with the term)

Then the guilt. What was it worth for me to be here and others to not be when the roles could easily have been reversed? I was indebted to the world and I had to prove that I could meet every expectation. It created an all-consuming fear of messing up– that any falters or mistakes on my part would seem ungrateful.

It’s an awful voice to always have whispering in the back of your mind.

So to anyone with that voice who needs to hear it:

You are enough for the world just as you are. There is no measure of worth, there’s no perfect cancer “survivor.” There’s no “weakness.” There’s no guidebook (although I’m sure there are some attempts out there) to tell us how to play the crappy card we’ve been dealt.

Instead we’re humans who have/had cancer. I’ve spent the last twenty minutes trying to think of a word that can describe just how much it really, truly, absolutely sucks but there isn’t one.

But hey, look at us.*

We’re here. And maybe we don’t have to act so strong all the time, but regardless, we’re pretty damn resilient.

You’re here and you’re allowed to be human.



*Bonus points to you if you get the Paul Rudd meme reference.


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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