A Beautiful Life of Cancer Denial


Living in denial is sometimes not such a bad idea, especially when it comes to cancer.

I have never been a fan of denial. My family is full of addiction. My mother died of the damage done to her body by food addiction. My sister died because of her active food addiction. The list of hurt goes on.

I have seen people I love partake in self-harming behaviors over and over again, denying the hurt they were inflecting upon themselves. Watching the ones I love destroy themselves has ripped open my heart. So I am simply not a fan of pretending that the obvious is not happening.

That is until I was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Now I can see the value of acting as if something isn't real. When I was first diagnosed, I lived in fairly constant terror. Yet at the same time, I dug my feet in and pursued any treatment I could find. I wanted to live. I researched options, I gritted my teeth through the treatment, I walked through a life muddied by chemo and its nasty side effects. My life became defined by cancer and chemo.

But after living immersed in cancer for long enough, I became totally and utterly exhausted. Living in terror and treatment is a very draining way to live. After a while, in my exhaustion, I told myself, and others, that I no longer cared if the cancer was there, I began to ignore it. But that's not true. I do care. At this point, though, I don't have the energy to get worked up by little signs of returned cancer and impending scans. I'm not saying that I'm not afraid. I am. I just no longer have the energy for constant, engulfing fear.

Over a week ago, I had yet another set of scans. Leading up to scan day, in my new, I don't care ways, I was not filled with the usual anxiety. The Wednesday after the scans, I called the doctor's office, and was told the images had been released to my oncologist by radiology. I asked if the oncologist could call me with the results. I waited for several days for that call, and over a week later, had still not heard. Truthfully, at that point, I no longer even wanted to receive the results phone call. I didn't want to hear bad news, I'd rather believe all was well. I decided to live in blissful ignorance.

Denial. In some cases, it does do a body good. I was living an everyday life, ignoring the cancer. I was thinking of simple things like "What's for dinner?" rather than "Oh, God, I hope that new ache isn't cancer." It was a relief. It was like being a regular person again, unaware of what the end holds in store. So, I decided not to call my oncologist to remind her to call me. Denial. I was damn happy to partake in it.

Monday night, over a week after the scans, I finally received an email from my oncologist. She reported the tumor on the liver had decreased in size, and that the spot on my rib was stable.

And you know what I felt? I felt grateful, yet angry. I was angry that it took my oncologist over a week to give me the results of my scans, and angry that I even need to have these cancer scans. Angry that I've been going through this experience of plodding through chemo, death and fear.

But I am also grateful. Grateful that the cancer is getting smaller rather than growing. Grateful that I don't have to switch to a systemic, side-effects-filled chemo from my relatively easy-to-take targeted therapy (Kadcyla). And I am grateful that for six more months I can continue to ignore the cancer, pretend it isn't there, live my beautiful new life of denial. It is my cancer vacation, and I am determined to do everything I can to enjoy it. Somebody hand me a piñ colada, and don't block my sun.

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