As a breast cancer and melanoma survivor, time has become a strange entity to me. I am five years out from my breast cancer diagnosis with a negative (no cancer) breast MRI, and I am very, very happy and grateful. I remember when I was going through chemotherapy, I was so frightened and scared that I just wanted to magically transport myself ahead five years to a successful breast MRI. At the same time, a part of me mourned and argued that I didn’t just want to give cancer five years of my life.
I didn’t want to waste the next five years worrying and stressing about making it to the five-year mark. First, what kind of life was that? Second, I knew that there was nothing magic about any time margin — one year, five, ten, or twenty years after my original cancer diagnosis.
Oh, and then a year ago there was my melanoma diagnosis on my shoulder on the opposite side from my breast cancer. More worry. More stress. Full body skin checks every three months. Many, many mole biopsies. I promised in The Cancer Survivor’s Waiting Game: Wait and Watch to share the results of my three most recent mole biopsies — suspicious moles removed a week ago — one on my calf, and one on each thigh.
Well, I have my results, but strangely, I don’t feel I have any real answers. All three were non-melanoma! Great, right? Unfortunately, all three came back 'moderately atypical' meaning more "wait and watch" for me. Are these marginal or good biopsy results? I wanted benign (normal) biopsies. I would even have been happier to hear "dysplastic nevus" or "slightly atypical," but I was also deeply grateful that none of the three recent mole biopsies were melanoma or severely atypical. Nothing found required larger excision surgery. I am not a doctor but some days I feel like I am becoming an expert in medical terminology! I think I was hoping for lab results to grant me permission to worry less.
So how am I supposed to feel? No, there are no "supposed-tos," "shoulds" or "oughts" with feelings. Truly, though, how do I feel? I feel confused, slightly worried, sometimes pursued by cancer, and grateful. I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful to not currently be in active cancer treatment, aside from my hormonal medication, and I won’t rush through my time. I won’t spend my time focusing excessively on the negative, but I am not allowed to put my head back in the sand either, in regard to my own mortality.
Time, limited time. We all have limited time, but cancer survivors are more aware of their own mortality. Maybe we waste less time because of this? I turned this feeling into a tangible thing and wrote a bucket list for myself. As I was making the list, I wrote and crossed off things I had already been blessed to be able to do that counted as bucket list items to me — After all, a bucket list is very personal.
See the Liberty Bell? Check. Virgin Islands? Check. Snorkel on a reef? Check. See New York? Check.
Since then, I have added items, like travel to Europe and go zip lining. I have also been fortunate to cross off items including: Swim with the dolphins, a hot air balloon ride, and an ocean scuba dive. Life is good. I try to turn my fear of mortality into a tangible positive — a bucket list that I actively pursue. What do you think?
Sometimes, being a two-time cancer survivor feels like a balancing act. Since cancer, it seems easier to lose my balance or to rock my boat. That makes sense to me. At the same time, I think and I hope that I am a stronger and a more aware human being than I was before all of this happened. Time is something to be grateful for. Time is something to be appreciated and used mindfully. Please share with me, as a fellow cancer survivor, how do you plan to spend your time wisely?
I'm approaching year 6 of being Cancer free. It's amazing how I read this and after being in somewhat of a depression? or merely loss lately it reminds me of many things. Right after my return home from my mastectomy I was cared for by my sister since my divorce was final the previous year. I returned home with making a Bucket List and kept it on my refrigerator door. It was a reminder of many things. To LIVE, to SURVIVE and little things are just that.... meaningless. As I met the love of my life 3 years later and we married, that Bucket List has disappeared. Lost from the refrigerator that was sooo important to me and my reminder of how life changes in a blink of an eye. Maybe that's why I'm feeling "lost"? In a thankless job, many family stressors, and trying to merely get through each day when my reminder of where I was those 6 years ago I would have given anything then to be where I'm at now but somehow I've forgotten. TODAY when I return home from this thankless job... that BUCKET LIST will be reinvented as the gentle reminder of where I've been. My work and life may be at a standstill because that's exactly where I am right now. Looking for direction and dreams. It's my responsibility to myself to shift this direction. I would rather take this next phase versus having "health" take me on that wild surprise of a whirlwind again. Thank you for this article and reminder of focus and to really create and live the "Life" I fought so hard to experience!
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