Where has my cancer gone? I woke up with that question percolating through my head. As I slowly pushed through the fog of my sleep, I became aware of a subtle feeling of dull pain in both of my legs.
And then I remembered that I still have breast cancer. But I also have two brand new prosthetic knees implanted in my limbs, and the pain I was feeling at that moment had nothing to do with my breast cancer.
Having cancer of any kind is one of those life occurrences that can change everything we do and all that we experience from that moment forward. We can never "undo" the initial cancer tsunami that sweeps over us with varying degrees of confusion and terror. But with time, the shock wave begins to dissipate and eventually we find other issues and circumstances that overshadow our disease. And it doesn't have to be something more difficult or painful, as in the case of my new knees.
Positive experiences and good medical reports can do wonders for our outlook and our general disposition. But in the beginning, for a few weeks or months or even more, those of us with a cancer diagnosis are connected to our disease from the moment we wake up until the moment we turn the light out at night. It's always there, sometimes subtle and sometimes demanding our full attention.
But one thing that can easily pull us away from our cancer experience is the trauma of another illness or new medical issue, as in my case. Because having cancer, as if that isn't enough, is still no guarantee that we won't develop other medical issues at a later date.
A diagnosis of cancer doesn't stop the progressive march of aging in our bodies, and it certainly doesn't promise any respite from the endless illnesses that we can acquire in our lives. For those of us 65 years and older, it's increasingly likely that health issues, both large and small, will find their way into our world.
So now that I'm three years post mastectomy with no recurrence of my cancer, my attention is sometimes drawn away by other issues – and not all of them bad. I can easily forget about my cancer while playing a game or two of "Pickle Ball" in the community where I live. And when I'm out dinning with friends and neighbors, there is little to remind me that my left breast is gone.
Today, with these darned knees that were literally cut into three pieces, the middles removed and a marvelous moving joint made of titanium and space-age plastic inserted in their place by a robotic arm, my cancer has been pushed to the back burner to simmer. At least for now.
If there were no pain involved in the recovery from this surgery, things would be different. After all, it takes something fairly powerful to pull us away from the focus we have on surviving cancer.
And ultimately, this break from our disease, even though it still festers in the background, is a good way for us to recharge and recover before we return to the business of living life fully with cancer once more.