For many who have been through the experience, whether you call it a return, recurrence or anything else, itís something they lay awake at night thinking about, and worrying about.
In July 2011 Barbara Carlos was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. A resident of Hawaii, she works in administrative support at a college and has retirement as her career goal. Music keeps her sane, as side effects of chemo and radiation linger. Overweight since childhood, she keeps trying to lose the estrogen-laden fat that her cancer loves.
I have heard others speak of their thoughts, anxiety and fears about cancer coming back. This perplexes me. Cancer is not like highly contagious mumps when you know that if you have been exposed and are not already immune from previous exposure or vaccination you are likely to come down with mumps. I daresay that none of us know exactly why or how things went so awry at a cellular level to start the cascading effect that resulted in our diagnosis. Yes, there are charts and graphs and statistics and anecdotes that indicate a possibility or even probability of recurrence, but so much of cancer is unknown science. No one knows for sure if, when or where a recurrence will announce itself.
Still, I feel that cancer is not yet done with me. I feel it’s lurking somewhere in my body trying to decide what to do next. It’s like a TV show on hiatus, not sure if it’s coming back next season or if it’s going into reruns on an obscure channel. It knows that I was not happy with its presence and vehemently expressed my unhappiness with the traditional treatments of cut, poison and burn. I’d like to think cancer will think twice before going through another battle with me. Maybe if it rests up long enough, it will be up to it. And if it’s ever game on again, I will do my best to make it as unhappy as it has made me.
Meanwhile, I am not waiting for cancer to come back. I have a life to live and I am busy living it. I hardly think about cancer at all (I do think about the lingering side effects of treatment though but mostly as my new normal or in terms of a work around to do what I want to get done). I have other things, much more pleasant things to think about. Yes, when I get an ache or pain or notice an aberration, I make note of it, observe it, report it to my doctor if I think it’s warranted, take the tests she recommends, and follow her directions. You see, she has done battle with cancer many more times than I. I think we both expect to face it together again at some point.
But I don’t lie awake at night worrying about cancer’s return. I don’t get anxious before a doctor’s visit or a test. I can’t control what happens, so there’s no need to obsess about it. Worrying only gives you gray hair and wrinkles. I have both and don’t want more. I feel fairly certain that cancer will rear its ugly head again. If it does, I will not be surprised, but I will be more prepared than I was the first time. I fully expect to see cancer again. I hope, and feel fairly confident, that I will be able to handle it more gracefully the second time around. I still feel bad about absolutely screeching over the phone at a poor nurse handling the oncology advice line “DO YOU THINK YOU COULD GIVE ME SOMETHING THAT ACTUALLY WORKS?!?!” because I was totally at my wits’ end after five days of diarrhea.
In the meantime, I have plans. They aren’t big plans but there are places to go, people to see and things to do.
When I go home tonight, I am going to make a smoothie from a mango just picked today from a co-worker’s garden.
Next week I have my annual well-woman check-up and I don’t anticipate any new issues arising from that doctor’s visit.
Next month another school year will begin and I’ll be a year closer to retirement.
I am considering attending a reunion thousands of miles away a few months later.
Plans are slowly developing for a month in Europe next summer.
Life is good.