This article was written by a one year cancer survivor detailing his experience since he was deemed cancer-free. It’s a great read: Click HERE
Many don’t realize the lifetime ordeal that a cancer diagnosis begins. Of course during the treatment you are focused on fighting, winning the battle and prevailing over cancer. You cope with that in a variety of ways: denial, anger, action and eventually acceptance. But then what? What comes after acceptance? What happens in the weeks months and years after the battle is over?
During the first few weeks/months you I was elated! It was finally over, no more driving to Charlotte once a week to be poked in the chest with a 1 inch needle. No more sickness from the chemo. It wasn’t immediate but my energy level finally began to improve. Physically, I am feeling great! But the mental and emotional toil of cancer lingers on.
While I am not required to have weekly blood tests and monthly treatments, I still need test every 3 months. They are testing for “tumor markers” which is simply a “red flag” in my blood that may say that the cancer has returned. For my particular type of cancer, the blood test has to be sent away for processing and it takes up to 2 weeks to get the results. Even thought there are days now that I don’t really think about cancer – during those two weeks I make up for it ten-fold! What if its back? What if they didn’t get it all the first time? Every cancer survivor feels this way I would guess – at least those that I have spoken with do. One friend said her way of dealing with that waiting period is to be super worried and then when it comes back all clear she is super happy and celebrates. Another friend says she asks them not to even call her with her results. That way she doesn’t have to wait around for that dreaded phone call. If there is any bad news it will be a surprise. For me – I sort of ignore it as best I can. Pretend that it doesn’t bother me. And pretend that it wasn’t a big deal when the results come back – sort of like “oh, ok – I knew it would be ok”. But even beyond the bloodwork, there are the everyday questions that arise. EVERY pain, EVERY twinge, EVERY eye twitch – is that the cancer coming back? Even now, as I write this, I am sitting in a hospital waiting for a breast biopsy. Breast pain led to a mammogram, which showed 2 masses. Even though the doctors say they are 99% sure they are benign, that 1% chance is still there and I will feel much better when I know for sure. Afterall, I was told by numerous doctors that I didn’t have cancer – so its hard for me to bet on the odds in these situations. I know that I am in for a lifetime of these what-ifs. Maybe it will get easier, or maybe not – but I suppose the “what-ifs” will keep me diligent.
On the emotional level, no matter what traumatic experience occurs in ones life, it alters the course of normal. Hopes and dreams are put on hold, priorities are shifted, focus becomes on the here and now rather than the plans for the future. That’s not always a bad thing. I think cancer helped me to “stop and smell the roses” so to speak. But after focusing so intently on overcoming the traumatic event (in my case cancer), getting life back on track doesn’t just come naturally. For the first time in my life, I had lost control. During those months of being sick and tired, and fighting the evils of cancer, I had lost the control over the day to day things (and if you know me, you know that I am a control freak!). I had certainly lost control over my own body: cancer didn’t ask me if it could come in and set up shop. I had lost control over my emotions and was prone to break down at any moment. You may say “well, you have good reason – a good cry never hurt anyone”. But again, the “old me” would have never let that happen. But most of all, I had lost my independence. I had never before been unable to take care of myself and my family. For the first time since childhood, I was the one being taken care of by those that loved me and while I was so thankful for that, it was difficult for my ego to come to terms with. So regaining that independence was a big deal for me. The little things that I used to take for granted were big milestones: going to the grocery store without being exhausted afterwards, being able to walk to the park with my kids, Christmas shopping (the year before I wasn’t able to shop for Christmas because of my health issues). For me, that was the “normal” that I wanted – NEEDED – to get back. It took time, but I finally feel like I am back to my full-time mom/wife/daughter/friend self. And its great to be back!