Are We Ever Really "Cancer-Free"?
I am coming up on my one year anniversary of being cancer-free. Reason to CELEBRATE? You bet your A$$ it is. And I will celebrate. Trust me, I will. But...
"But what? There is no but."
...says someone who has thankfully never had cancer. And they are right in a way, but sadly oh-so-wrong in another way.
The "but" for me is what happens to you -- your mind, your heart, your fears, your dreams -- once the cancer is gone. It's what you go through when the "doom and gloom" days of doctor appointments are long gone. Once you're done with tests, blood work, biopsies, consultations, scans, surgeries, etc. You walk into that follow-up appointment scared. You think of everything they could say, such as: "We didn't get it all," "You'll need more treatment," or "The cancer has spread."
But alas, you hear those words you have dreamed of hearing since you were diagnosed: "You are cancer free." You head home feeling as though you are floating instead of walking, you're in a state of shock. I thought that night would be the best sleep of my life, but it ended up being the start of many sleepless nights.
I have never been someone who thinks negatively -- I have always focused on the positives. I never had too many anxieties or worries growing up, and never held onto stresses for too long. I would always figure out what needed to be done and then did the best I could to move on, happy and worry-free.
But now, not so much. I worry about my health with every ache and pain. I think about all the possibilities of what could attack my body. I think about my kids, my hubby, and my family. I think about cancer finding its way back into my life. Although I am a strong person and live a healthy and active lifestyle, I feel physically vulnerable all the time. What if the cancer never left? I sometimes fear that it will never be gone. Is anyone ever truly "cancer-free?"
Why is it that when I was going through cancer, I was so positive and optimistic?I was solid and focused and even though I was still scared, I had a purpose. I was on a mission to concur this beast. My mentality was: "No f'ing way you will take me down". I laughed a lot. I was virtually unchanged. I was ME. I went to appointments focused with my lists of questions. I did my research, I was informed, I laughed with the medical staff. I tried to turn as many of my daily interactions into a 'Saturday Night Live' skit as possible. I made people around me smile. I remember most of it as a 'happy' time.
But the moment you are sent home with your "get out of jail free" card you are alone, unsupported, and left to deal with the after-effects no one really warns you about. No one tells you that you will come down from that adrenaline rush to a place where you don't know what you feel, think or how to move forward in your life.
How do you explain to your loved ones that it isn't as easy as it seems when they say "Get over it," "Don't think that," or "It's gone, so focus on that." Yes, we try to do that, but without wanting it, we think of the negative and darker stuff and especially of all those "what if's." Then we struggle with the guilt of thinking those negative thoughts, so we start to lie when asked "How are you doing?"
If you ask me how I'm doing, and I answer honestly by telling you that I'm worried, please accept my answer. You asked and I answered. It might not be all sunshine, rainbows or fluffy kittens but it is where I am at. Yes, I am grateful for my life and my health-- but I want to be OK with this second stage of feeling scared, worried, and anxious. I can't quite explain why these thoughts are poisoning my mind but I want to be allowed to go through this part and hope I can continue to have the same support I had at the beginning. My support systems are what got me through it in the first place...I guess I just need them all a tad longer than expected.
Are you still struggling with fear even after being declared "cancer-free?" Share your experiences in the comments below.
Photo courtesy of Alan Labisch