In the very beginning, when you’re first told you have cancer, the fear is overwhelming. Mostly, for me anyway, it was the fear of leaving my loved ones behind. How will my daughter make it through school? How will my husband manage without me? Do I have time to run through the basics, like how to cook and do laundry? While I knew they wouldn’t starve, I’ve always been picky about laundry and would never let them near the washer (well my husband anyway!) And, being an only child, my biggest fear was who would look after my parents as they age? Compounded by my own mortality fears, that was a rough time for sure.
The Early Days After Treatment Ends
Gradually the days inched by. I made it through the shock of my diagnosis, then surgery. I survived chemotherapy and all that goes with it. On the last day of treatment everyone cheered and patted me on the back. See you in three months they said. While I should have been happy, this truly was one of the scariest times of the whole ordeal for me. For the first time in months nobody was DOING anything to me. No treatments, no tests, no phone calls, or check-ins. I was scared to death! I walked out of the hospital convinced I’d be back in a week. I couldn’t be done with this yet. My mindset wasn’t ready. Unfortunately, the hospital WAS ready and set me free!
Not Every Symptom Has to be Cancer Rearing its Ugly Head
For months every little lump or bump caused panic. Every little twinge or ache was, to me, a dire warning that my cancer had come back. A few times I actually ran, not walked, back in to be checked out. With patience they would reassure me that I was fine! Over time this fear gradually lessened and my panic trips became fewer and fewer. It was back to living, raising my daughter, and doing the laundry! A tough lesson for me to learn was that not everything that happened had to be cancer.
Learning to Live as a Cancer Survivor
But cancer was always in the back of my mind. One shoe had dropped, and I was always waiting for the other one to hit the floor. I can’t say that I dwelled on it, but once you’ve been shocked to the core, you learn from the experience. I went on with my life. I laughed, I cried, I LIVED! One year passed, then two. Before I knew it I was celebrating my five year milestone. Was I happy, of course! Did I ever let my guard down, no! Once you’ve walked the cancer journey, you should never let your guard down. At my 10 year anniversary the memories of that gut wrenching fear had faded quite a bit. I never got complacent though. I jumped through every hoop they suggested and went to all follow-ups even though I felt great. To me survivorship was a gift, one that I didn’t want to tuck away and not use. I never wanted to experience that fear again. Life moved on and the years passed.
As I approach my 21st cancerversary, it’s sometimes hard for me to put myself back in time and relive those memories. Do I think I did anything extraordinary to make it here today? Absolutely not! Plain and simple, I wanted to live. I did what most everyone in the same predicament does, I did what I had to do. Why am I still here today when so many others aren’t? I have no clue. I’m not any better than anyone else. I didn’t try harder or do more. I’m not a hero. I think what it boils down to is every BODY is different. Every PERSON will respond differently to treatment. I was just lucky! When people praise me on my many years of survivorship it almost makes me a little uncomfortable. I didn’t do anything different than thousands of other people do every day. I’ve seen wonderful, courageous people literally walk through hell to live but didn’t. It’s something that I will never understand.
Time Heals as Survivorship Continues
Does it get any easier with time? Yes and no. Little by little the fear recedes until gradually it only rears its ugly head occasionally. I do great 364 days a year. The one day that I walk through the hospital revolving doors for my yearly oncology checkup brings everything back. As I leave those appointments every year, the relief is still as great as it was on those first few checkups. I will continue to live my life to the fullest and hopefully check off many more years. I am a long-term survivor of cancer!