October 20th, 2017
| Survivor: Penile Cancer
As I moved through my immediately post-cancer journey, the things that I thought about and things that are important to me now, three years out, have changed.
Starting Treatment, Things Felt Bleak
At the start of cancer treatment, all of my thoughts were about life and death. I asked myself really hard questions, questions like: Am I going to survive this? How can I survive this? The question of my own mortality was all consuming and nothing else really mattered at that time. My day-to-day concerns about mundane things very quickly disappeared into the ether to be replaced by the all-consuming fear of death. It was a very dark place to be -- one that had no room for thoughts about the future. Why take time and energy to think about Christmas or birthdays when they are not important in the big scheme of things and also, more importantly, since I did not know or believe I would see these events anyway?
That mentality lasted well into the first year post-treatment.
… And That Feeling Didn't Go Away When Treatment Ended
All the research I conducted in understanding my disease and treatment options ended up biting me in the ass after treatment was over. I became hungry for more information. The trouble I ran into was that is the information I found was very tough to swallow. I learned that although I had made it through surgery and chemo, I was now in the most dangerous stage for recurrence. If it was going to go wrong, this was, without a doubt, the most likely period for it to happen.
My world started darkening after knowing the depth of pain and despair that I felt during surgery, chemo and radiotherapy, which flooded back with equal intensity in my anxiety of re-occurrence. It was another dark period in my life, just a different shade from the previous.
While my concerns did move away (slightly) from imminent death, they evolved into fear of recurrence instead of just dissipating. This period of my journey covered about two years.
But My Life Did Get Better -- And It Continues To Get Brighter
Every year, I held on knowing that imminent death was getting more unlikely, that the risk of recurrence was lessening somewhat, and that my body was starting to heal. Yes, it has taken three years for the pain to ease to a point where I actually have times, maybe even days, where I don't feel pain. It's actually a very weird experience to be feeling pain free. Of course, I've got my fair share of aches and stiffness still, but being physically active has done wonders for my healing process. I've now gotten to a point where I can push my body to the max, and that's been tremendously helpful in regaining hope that I can actually embrace survivorship.
So now, as I hit the three year mark, what have I to worry about? Well, my immediate concerns from three years ago have diminished. The worries over re-occurrence are for sure weakening, although I'm still guarded when shoots of confidence come through. Maybe it's just me -- I'd rather be cautious about my vitality rather than be disappointed if a problem does arise.
I've learned that we've got to be honest. We must face up to the where we are now and how it affects us. These physical and emotional issues unique to cancer survivors are pretty far outside the most people’s comprehension, and one that I guess, for some, would be easier not to discuss. Every time I use the bathroom, have a bath, a shower, get dressed, I am reminded by the visual effect this disease has had on my body.
At times, I see a freak. Sometimes, I see a miracle. Sometimes, I see a body that is not mine. The amputation of the penis is very obvious and some of the scar tissue is quite thick and hard – a unsightly reminder of what once was. I have over a dozen scars now and some are fading away, but this is not really an issue for the ones that stay. I may not have a supermodel body, but I am proud of what my body and I have overcome. This is where I am, and I am allowing myself to regain trust in my body little by little every day.
The journey is far from over, but the terrain I drive over changes. Perhaps now it’s time to turn my focus to what happens now.
What has your emotional cancer survivorship looked like? Share your life chapters in the comments below.
Photo courtesy of Jared Erondu.
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