Cancer Recovery: Facing Real Pain

Facing Real Pain: A Survivor’s Honest Take

As a mental health therapist and someone who’s beaten cancer not once, but twice, I’ve stared down some of life’s ugliest monsters. And now, as a coach helping others through their cancer battles, I carry both scars and wisdom. But here’s something tough to admit: sometimes, I struggle to empathize with everyday complaints. There, I said it.

Hearing friends fret over a wrong coffee order or a delayed package doesn’t always get the sympathetic nod it used to. It’s not that I’ve become heartless. Far from it. It’s just that cancer changes you. It shifts your emotional gears. Suddenly, the small stuff feels even smaller, especially when you’ve faced down something as colossal as cancer.

But here’s the kicker: feeling this way can mess with your head. You wonder, “Am I being too harsh? Have I lost touch with what ‘normal’ problems feel like?” This internal tug-of-war is real. It’s raw, and it doesn’t come with easy answers.

Let’s get one thing straight: surviving cancer doesn’t strip away our capacity to care about others. If anything, it makes us more aware of pain, suffering, and, yes, even the smaller challenges life throws our way. But it also gives us a filter—a sort of emotional sieve—that prioritizes where we pour our energy and empathy.

The truth is, we’re not becoming insensitive. We’re just recalibrated. We understand all too well that life is fragile, precious, and sometimes, brutally unfair. That understanding doesn’t shut us off from others; it just makes us more selective about where we invest our emotional bandwidth.

So, to anyone out there wrestling with these feelings, know this: it’s okay. It’s okay to not sweat the small stuff, and it’s okay to feel a bit detached from what used to ruffle your feathers. What’s important is that we don’t lose our ability to connect, to lend an ear, and to be there when it really counts.

Let’s cut ourselves some slack. We’ve been through hell and back. Our empathy might be a little battle-worn, but it’s still there, strong as ever. And when the big stuff hits, for us or for someone we care about, we’ll be ready to face it head-on, together. Because that’s what survivors do.

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Tara Tooley

tara tooley cancer recovery coaching

Two time cancer survivor and psychotherapist. My personal battles with cancer inspired a deeper purpose: to offer genuine, informed support to fellow survivors.

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