Adjusting to Life After Cancer: The Darker Realities

Surviving cancer sometimes means re-imagining the life you dreamed about but never thought you would have.

Cancer is an illness that is more pervasive than any one mind can imagine. It is a disease that invades every aspect of one’s life and leaves tsunami-size waves in its aftermath. We (my four siblings and I) watched as the young woman we knew turned into a frail person that was a shadow of our sister. At just 27, everything in her life changed when she was diagnosed. Sadly, the realities of life post-cancer come with life-long effects that most don’t realize.

When you are growing up, you think about meeting that right person, getting married and starting a family. You think about what you will name those children, memories that you will make with them and your own kids having babies of their own. That imagine, that picture of what you think life will look like, is erased when you receive a cancer diagnosis. Like a Polaroid picture, it fades as time passes.

Her treatments were ever-changing and they were never easy. Although my sister had wanted a family someday, meeting with fertility doctors did not happen before treatment began. She was simply too sick to afford time to waste. She was officially diagnosed on a Friday and treatment began that following Tuesday.

Throughout different parts of her treatment, the subject of fertility came up as our friends had healthy babies of their own. It was not an in-depth conversation until my second pregnancy and the difficult miscarriage that followed. As the reality of the physical destruction that cancer has caused becomes clearer, so does the reality that my sister will never bear children or be a mother. In addition to the numerous complications that she faces internally, the list of external and physical complications seems to be ever-growing.

As she works with specialists to cope with the thought of recurrence and the coinciding fear that follows, she is also forced to cope with the realities of infertility. She sees doctors constantly and continues to bounce in and out of the hospital far too frequently. Even though she many not be a mom, someday she may be an aunt. Because above all else, she is here against all the odds.

Although no longer sick with the illness of cancer, my sister is now trying to sort through all that has happened in the last three years. All the while, continuing to deal with the issues that she faces now. As she struggles, it is like watching her absorb an awful nightmare that sadly, she will never wake up from.

If I have learned anything, it is that life is never quite what you expect it to be. After all that my sister has been through, I think her biggest challenge is to now work on building the life that she never expected to have. While she may not be a Mom, or have the joy of carrying a child, she is here. So while things are slow, I am hopeful that she will find a steady pace and begin to find her footing in adjusting to the darker realities of survivorship.