If "Ah!" is the element of surprise, then "Ha!" is the element of "I told you so" – and recurrence has come with an element of that, a smidgen of "I knew it", of having every fear from the last eight years being proven right. It is a hollow victory, of course, and just one of those strange, morbid statements I have in conversations with myself. "I told you this would happen again – didn’t I say it was only a matter of time?" Here are a few slightly more cohesive thoughts on what recurrence feels like for me so far, while I am just a few weeks in and awaiting further investigations.
You Don’t Have To Talk To Everyone
What strikes me most about recurrence right now is all the things I need to do and don’t need to do, and where my priorities lie. Like telling everyone what’s going on. Who do you tell, how do you tell them, and how much do you continue to tell them as things progress? It would be exhausting to tell all of my friends and family about every test or appointment, so prioritizing is a must, and it’s a part of self-care for me.
My obligations are to myself, and the circle of people I talk to regularly is very small – my parents, my partner, a close friend, and someone at work I feel comfortable talking to, so that management is up to date with what’s happening. Those are the people who know everything that’s going on with my diagnosis and progress. Everyone else gets varying degrees of detail. Let's face it, that initial conversation is hard enough as it is without the pressure of repeating every single thing that happens. As long as there is someone for you to talk to when you need to and you don’t keep it bottled up, it doesn’t matter if you don’t talk to everyone about it.
Your Current Emotions Won’t Last Forever
By the time this goes out on IHadCancer, my situation might have changed. I might have had more tests, received the results of the ones I’ve already had, been told exactly what the situation is and what’s going to happen next, or even begun treatment already. Thinking about the future is terrifying because it’s such a mystery. I can hardly bear to plan a couple of weeks in advance because I don’t know what state I’ll be in. But I am telling myself that whatever happens, I will plan some good things I can look forward to, like nights out or trips with friends or my partner. I think having things to look forward to is important, no matter how big or small.
My mood has been so up and down for the past three weeks, I know that one minute I might be in the depths of despair and the next things will be beginning to look brighter. Life is going to be difficult for a while, but it isn’t going to be bad all the time. Whether I have to wait hours, days or weeks, I know a brighter time will come eventually - even if it’s only for one night. Everything changes, and emotions don’t last forever.
You Can Handle It
I’ve had lots of hospital appointments for different things so far this year, and there have been times when it’s all felt like it’s too much and I can’t handle it. I’ve been on the verge of saying I can’t cope, only to question what "coping" really means, and what not coping would look like. It has sometimes felt like it would be easier to just stop trying to "cope" at all – to run away, to abandon all my responsibilities, to not do all the sensible things that my healthcare providers would tell me to do, to drink myself into oblivion, or something similar. That would be easier than continuing to work, than trying to keep it together emotionally, than worrying about the effect my actions have on other people – or the effect this whole situation has on other people. Keeping it together feels like it is the harder road to walk.
Humans are very resilient, though, mentally and physically. I’m trying to look at each new test or medical experience as a learning opportunity, and a chance to build my resilience further. A lot of my fear of this medical world is the fear of the unknown, and once I have had a particular exam, I feel better about doing it again if I need to. The more I am given to cope with, the more I am able to handle. I am adding knowledge and experience to my cancer repertoire. The hardest part is when I have multiple appointments coming up for different things, and I have to think of them all at once. I am trying to only think about one thing at a time so that I don’t feel too overwhelmed. I am trying to build myself up so that if things do get worse, I will be able to deal with it. It is not easy to try. But that’s what other people will want me to do, and I hope that there will be a day when I can say I am back in remission again, and that getting back to that place is all worth it. If you’re in the same position, I hope there will be a day when you can say that, too.
What were some of your thoughts upon experiencing a cancer recurrence? Share in the comments below.
Photo courtesy of the author.