Fear, Trauma, and Acceptance: My Journey Through a Decade of Survivorship
Lucky me. I was diagnosed at the beginning of a decade so keeping track of my survivorship is easy. A new decade? That means 10 more years I have lived as a cancer survivor. It’s hard to type with sarcasm, but just know it lingers all over these words. No, I am not being sarcastic that I have gotten to live 10 years as a cancer survivor. Believe me, I am grateful. Quite honestly, I can’t believe I can say I lived a decade after cancer. I was 100% sure I wouldn’t see one year after diagnosis. So my life now of living in fear of cancer is progress, not perfection.
Let’s face it, people don’t bang down my door to interview me on how living a decade of cancer survivorship really feels like. I am pretty sure no one wants to know. It’s not much of a story either. I'll summarize it quickly in one word: terrifying. I’ll get back to that in a minute. Let me get out all the basics. First of all, I was diagnosed with cancer almost 10 years ago when I was 32 years old. I was introduced to my life partner, breast cancer, unexpectedly. I wasn’t looking for a relationship with cancer. I was not on any cancer dating sites. I wasn’t out looking for cancer. Oh no. It found me and decided for both of us that we would be together. Back in 2010, I went through everything I could to get rid of the cancer. I had a bilateral mastectomy, reconstruction, 12 weeks of chemo, and then years of hormone therapy. It’s because of all this treatment that I am here today, almost a decade later, and I am so grateful to simply be alive. However, with that comes lots of other stuff….the unfun stuff.
I’ve just about wrapped up 10 years of carrying fear around like a tattoo that weighs 100 pounds. It has latched itself on to me like a permanent appendage. I have yet to figure out how to get rid of it, but in all fairness, I’ve gotten a lot better with living with it. I remember people telling me that the fear of cancer recurrence would go away over time. It doesn’t. You just get pretty good at dealing with its existence. Then there is the PTSD. This one. Oh, this one. This is the part of cancer that pretty much no one tells you about. It’s the part of your cancer diagnosis where trauma steps in and says it also wants to be your life-long partner. I had no idea PTSD could be a part of the cancer program you never signed up for. I thought only military veterans could have PTSD. Yes, I know this is naïve, but it was all I understood of PTSD back then.
Sometimes I say I’ve only lived nine years as a cancer survivor because cancer robbed me of the first year after treatment. I flat out don’t remember it. Cancer robbed me of so much that it would take pages to write it all out. That’s where the PTSD kicked in. It turned my brain off for a bit. It helped me, if you could call it helping, black out that first year of survivorship. Almost 10 years later, there are parts of that journey I still can’t remember. I am working on it. For the first three years after cancer, I lived in denial. It was easy. Pretend everything is fine and go right back to your old life, you know, the one before you were diagnosed with a life-altering experience. It was about year four when I realized I couldn’t function that way anymore. It was time to start fighting the cancer fears, not succumbing to them. Years 5 – 9 were about trying to remember year one and all the trauma I repressed.
Then, there is year 10. I am just beginning here in 2020, and I like this one so far. This is the year we all start a new decade, cancer or not. I don’t know what life is like after the 10th year of cancer survivorship. I am just getting started. I like to think it’s the one where I get to meet acceptance. I’ve met fear. I’ve met trauma. I never went out looking for them yet they found me. I have spent almost 10 years after cancer looking for acceptance. I hope the 10th year of survivorship brings that introduction.
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