Partial Cancer Remission: Taking It One Day at a Time
Jane Biehl, Ph.D.
I am in a curious, coveted, yet uncertain period of my cancer journey: “remission” or what my doctor calls “partial remission.”
A blood cancer such as mine is not curable. I have been on chemo for eight years. When my hemoglobin dipped below 10, the doctors put me on Procrit shots (epoetin alfa; used to treat anemia) twice a month. I feel more energy and better than I have for years! I am taking advantage of not being exhausted and sick from the chemo. I am doing the things I love like traveling and writing, going out with friends and family, and taking slow walks with my aging dog. I name this the “golden period.”
BUT – there is usually a but and this is a big one. The doctors don’t expect the shots to be effective any longer than a year, give or take a few months. Then I will have to go back on the dreaded, but necessary, chemo again. The two chemo’s I have been on are no longer effective. So, it will be a new medication with a whole new regime, new side effects, new fatigue factors – cancer survivors all know the drill.
I have told myself (and others) that I’m not going to worry about it and just take it one day at a time. After all, I rationalize I could be hit by a car tomorrow and die. Worrying does nothing and I have absolutely no control. So, I am not worrying.
Except that I do. Deep down, I am acutely aware I am on borrowed time. I am tentatively making plans for future cruises, hoping I can take them. I worry about money and running out. I worry about how I will take care of myself, since I am already past the expected life span for my type of cancer. I worry about my 14-year-old dog that is my ears, my partner, my soul mate and a part of me. What will I do without her? How can I possibly adjust? Or worse, what if I can’t take care of her?
But then I swing back. There have been other times in my life when I have worried about the future. I have been without a job when suddenly the phone rings. I have been down to my last dollar when money appears. I thought I couldn’t go one more step, but then I start to feel a little more energy. My friends and family, who are my age, tell me they also worry about the future. What if something happens to their spouse before them? Can they take care of their house? Can they afford assisted living or medical care?
I understand that we all worry. The cancer just makes it more imminent. To be honest, I do find it impossible to take it one day at a time all of the time, and some days are better than others.
There is a huge positive, however, with us cancer survivors. This horrible, insidious disease is a brutal, but effective teacher. We think back to the first day we were diagnosed, the first awful treatments, the horrible side effects we had, whether it was from chemo, surgery or radiation, and we survived. Some days, we were just too tired to go on. But we did; we persevered. We came out on the other side.
So, when I have my “what if” moments, I remember this: Try to take things one day at a time. I know I will not always feel this good. I know everything will change and my doctor has warned me it could go south fast. But I have had lessons from the past. My faith, my family, my friends and my medical team will be there for the future. And this is what we all need to remember!