Will I Ever Get Off This Cancer Roller Coaster?
From pre-diagnosis to post-treatment, cancer is a never-ending carnival world of emotions and events. Adele recognized what she was getting into and right away buckled up, faced the rollercoaster head on, and prepared herself for the challenge of a lifetime.
I’ve often read different metaphors for life, one of them being ‘life is like a roller coaster ride’ full of peaks and valleys of joy and pain. Sure I guess, although most of my life, especially my youth, was more about consistency, calm, and comfort with only a few bumps in the roads that were easily overcome. My youth was more of a carousel ride, smoothly going around in circles, joyful music in the background, children and adults alike smiling and laughing. You’d get the occasional horse that would jolt you unexpectedly up in the air, taking your breath away but leaving you giggling on the way back down.
My cancer diagnosis could almost be seen as my first ride on this life-sized roller coaster. You sit down on the cold hard bench, pull the metal bar down and buckle yourself in, close your eyes, hold your breath and hope for the best. The ride starts going slowly up and up as you head to countless doctors offices, get scans, biopsies and blood work. Then you hit the momentary stop at the top, the peak of the ride where you are surrounded by silence, emptiness, loneliness, to suddenly dropping viciously down down down to that valley at the bottom of the ride known as Diagnosis Day, or what I refer to as D-Day.
The first year, although I remained on that roller coaster, I got to a place where those peaks and valleys were better handled. They became expected. I could regulate my breath so that the rise no longer seemed to reach as high as that first one, and the dips appeared to be slightly slower going down. I knew that with every appointment my heart would beat harder and faster, then drop back down and slowly get back to a place I would be able to handle and move forward.
Then came the end of the ride where I slowly pulled up to the gates, the security bar was released. I got off the roller coaster, legs weak and shaky, but I gladly accepted that it was over.I had survived the ride. I was told the glorious words “You are now cancer-free”.
For a while after, I walked around that ‘amusement park’, my life, just looking around at the beauty of it. The colors, the lights, the music. All those happy faces and I actually felt I also was one of those happy faces in the crowd. I blended in. I was at peace. I was healthy. I went back to my normal.
…or so I thought.
Little did I know, I would not be done with the rides so soon. Perhaps never.
I recently rode a ferris wheel in downtown Montreal at night. There were lights and music, and I had my son and one of my sisters next to me. It was beautiful, lovely, even magical. But it also made me realize that my recent challenges were somewhat similar to this ferris wheel ride. There were the ups and downs, similar to the roller coaster, yet they were smoother, almost creeping up on you without warning. For every day that I felt great and at peace, I would have a few days with panic stricken moments that would hit me out of the blue in random moments.
I would be in the grocery store and suddenly feel like the floor would collapse under my feet as if I had just walked onto a trap door. The room would begin to spin uncontrollably, I felt I had forgotten how to take a breath. I dreaded night times the most when the kids would be snuggled warm in their beds, my beautiful husband sound asleep beside me, my dog curled up close to my legs. These were moments when I should be most at peace, but they would leave me in tears. I found my head spinning with uncertainty, anticipating what dreadful dreams I’d have. I didn’t recognize myself anymore. Who was this person who feared the calm moments? Why was it that all I could think of was what could happen?
I started imagining the worst. Would I get sick again? Would cancer come full circle and chose me once again? It gave me the same feeling of walking through a house of mirrors, through a maze of mirrors where every turn has you face to face with those glass panes of a distorted reality. I would catch glimpses of myself that were unusual and confusing, some of them humorous and others frightening.
One of the biggest triggers of my anxiety recently has been waiting on the results of my genetic testing. Earlier today I had a call with my genetic counselor to go over those results. The main genes they were looking at were BRCA 1 and 2. I found out that I have negative results for both of those. What that means is I do not have a mutation in those genes, therefore I am not at a higher risk of ovarian or breast cancer. It does not mean that my mother, who passed away of cancer, did not have a mutation though. When a parent has the mutation, there is a 50/50 chance of it being passed down. The fact that I do not have the mutation also means that my kids will not. Gene mutations do not skip a generation. If you don't have it, you can't pass it down. All in all, this is good news and was such a huge relief for me.
Still, I’m not sure what is next for me. I don’t know what is around the corner. I can’t be certain I won’t hop onto yet another scary ride. What I do know is that I am not alone in this, in these feelings and in these constant fears. I am working hard on accepting this new me, this new reality. Life will continue to have me facing scary and uncomfortable moments, weird rides that I wish I had never gotten onto.
What I have also learned is that in accepting the fearful moments, it is OK to seek help and not want to face this alone. For me, that has meant admitting that I am struggling with depression and anxiety. It has meant accepting medication as prescribed by my family physician. It is reaching out to the professionals who can help me in sorting out my thoughts.
My recovery will continue to be these things and that is OK. It does not mean I am broken. It does not mean I am weak. It simply means I am human. It means I accept me.
It means I am a survivor.
How do you define your survivorship? Tell us in the comments below!