5/22/2023 | By Amy Dickinson

A woman has conquered cancer, but many people are impatient with her new limitations, leaving her feeling “odd.” See what advice columnist Amy Dickinson says about these cancer survivor struggles in this edition of “Ask Amy.”

Dear Amy: 

Six years ago, I developed a difficult cancer with a life expectancy of three to six months.

After many months of chemo, I received a donor bone marrow transplant from a specialty hospital where I was for several more months. The transplant was “successful” and the probability of reoccurrence is low.

I worked very hard at recovery. Now I am trying to accept a new normal.

I have post-transplant complications including fatigue, graft versus host disease, organ damage, emotional trauma, food constraints, and am immune compromised. I try to present myself well, but my cancer survivor struggles make it hard to keep up the act, and sooner or later something comes up that highlights my inabilities.

I get tired of blaming “the Big C” but often it comes out; for example, I get extremely fatigued and have to leave after a few hours, or people resent the fact that I am still careful and masking, so I mumble something to explain myself.

I have not been able to come up with a way to present myself that works well (I make jokes that fall flat, etc.).

I often decline social engagements for all of those reasons, and also just because I don’t want to be odd.

Any suggestions for how to be me?

— New Me

Dear New Me: 

You are a chronically health-challenged person trying to integrate with people who have no idea — and no way of knowing — how hard you are working to experience the world as they do. They have no empathy for your cancer survivor struggles and seem unwilling to learn.

It truly does sound exhausting.

I’m going to be presumptuous and write you a prescription: to lean in and resist the constant urge to “pass.”

I speak now on behalf of my fellow oddballs. Life is easier — for you and for others — when you embrace the concept of self-care, which in your case is to be gentle with yourself, to fully and authentically be yourself, and to make sure that your own needs are met.

If you believe that healthy people resent your need to be extremely careful, for instance by wearing a mask, then tell yourself (and others, if you are confronted) that if they’d like to experience the life-changing effects of cancer, you’d be happy to switch places with them.

You also need to experience a connection with people who will not expect you to explain yourself. Join a support group of people who can empathize with your cancer survivor struggles.

Researching your question, I’ve found a helpful online group: “Cancersurvivors” on Reading through the first several postings, I see that there are other people out there who understand what you are going through and who will fully support the “new you.”

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – ranging from cancer survivor struggles to being called “sweetie” and retirement community romances. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.

Amy Dickinson