Does the fear of a recurrence of breast cancer haunt every cancer survivor? Are these feelings normal? How can we combat these feelings of fear?
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
The fear of recurrence looms overhead like a brown turkey vulture on a Georgia, hot summer’s day. Swooping and diving, she circles. I can feel her, a living presence. I walk daily in her shadow. Some days the ominous darkness overwhelms me.
I never thought myself to be a fearful person. I’ve always done my best to walk by faith, not by sight, but when the oncologist scheduled a complete body bone scan three years after my initial diagnosis, doubt and worry crept in. Thoughts I’d failed to consider became reality. What if? What if cancer returned? How would I feel? What would I do? The more I thought, the closer I felt the brush of her wings. I wasn’t ready.
Do all lives touched by cancer feel this fear? At diagnosis, does that great bird of destruction perch idly on shoulders waiting for an opportune moment? Do we carry her with us for days, months and years, unseen and quiet, or am I the only one sensitive to her nearness? Am I overly sensitive?
I’d prefer not to think about recurrence, but how do I suppress truth? One solitary cancer cell. That’s all it would take. Just one. Floating carefree in my system, reveling in the precious flow of my life’s blood. And that minute cell has the power to decide when, where, and if. It seems so unfair.
Cancer was an uninvited guest. I don’t know how or when it decided to reside in my breast. It could have been there for ten years or more according to the doctor. I never felt it. I had no idea until that fateful day in the shower. As my fingers trailed over my soapy breast, the hardness of the solid mass stopped them. The discovery life altering.
At the end of the week, I’ll go to the hospital. The technician will inject a radioactive tracer into my vein. The tracer will travel through my bloodstream and into my bones. A special camera will scan my body and take pictures. Areas that absorb very little of the radioactive tracer will appear as dark spots. These places could show a lack of blood supply to my bones or could indicate a problem. They could pinpoint a recurrence of cancer. Areas of increased absorbency will show up brightly. These are called hot spots and may indicate problems such as arthritis, tumors, fractures or an infection.
At present, the fear of recurrence is circling. She floats silently on the breeze feeling the updraft beneath her wings. As she dips and dives, moving ever close, I watch. In my mind’s eye, I see her clearly. She is hideously ugly. She is ravenous. She frightens me but I can’t spend my time watching her. There are things I need to do. I have a life to live.
Take one day at a time, wise advice I received years ago from a friend who lay dying. She was stage 4, metastatic. Her frame wracked with disease, yet still, she loved. She was the epitome of brave. A young mother with four little ones. She fought valiantly, but cancer fought harder. On the day she succumbed to breast cancer, I sat by her bedside. Our friendship touched by unbearable pain and suffering, I needed to be with her. The last words she said to me before leaving this earth still echo in my mind, “Take one day at a time, Bonnie, just take one day at a time.”
If there was one word I wish I’d never learned, it would be the word cancer. But to be ignorant of the word would not negate its power. I’ve been fearful, especially this week, as the bone scan looms in front of me but as I look up, toward that dark figure in the sky, I hear the words of my sweet friend whispering in my ear, “Take one day at a time, Bonnie, just take one day at a time.” And that’s exactly what I intend to do. I can’t worry about tomorrow. Today has enough troubles of its own. One day at a time, that’s all I can handle right now and that’s enough.