Are You in the Shallow or Deep End of the Cancer Pool?

Two-time survivor reflects about the cancer experience and offers perspective and hope.

I forgot how frightening it is just to get splashed from standing next to the cancer pool. Someone I didn’t know very well recently sought me out to discuss the possibility that she might have cancer. Might. She didn’t know yet. The hope and strong possibility was that what had just been found would turn out to be benign. Unfortunately, she was put in a wait-and-see position to see if there would be a change before considering further testing. Ah, Limbo Land, I remember it well. It stinks.

Even the possibility of cancer is scary. There isn’t always a direct relationship between the cancer diagnosis or prognosis and the intensity of the emotional reaction when cancer is discussed. Many people, including me, kind of like to walk around thinking, well, it couldn’t happen to me, or well, it probably wouldn’t happen to me. As a society, we encourage this. We don’t like to think about death, specifically, the possibility of facing our own mortality

To find out that there might be something bad in your body is frightening. Playing “wait and see” for a few weeks or months is even more stressful. Obviously, if the medical professionals are willing to wait, it means there is a very strong possibility that it won’t be cancer. Still, try to tell that to someone— someone who doesn’t know if they are underreacting or overreacting to what they were just told. The “big C” has been mentioned. It is now out there on the table. That is profoundly frightening and potentially life changing.

No one, especially someone who is a cancer survivor, would ever wish that situation for anyone. I tried to reassure this person and provide a little perspective. Perspective is one of the first things that goes out the window when you hear the “C” word. Still, I couldn’t truly make it all better and I couldn’t shorten her wait in Limbo Land.

My cheeks were wet after our conversation. Why? The whole cancer thing is just wrong. Sad. Bad. Wrong. There is helplessness even when you want to help. I hope I helped. I have been through surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and side effects, and a second unrelated cancer. I am more than six years out from my initial diagnosis, which is great, and I am still here. I would even say I have not even been in the deep end of the cancer pool myself because of my good prognoses. Maybe waist-deep?

Cancer is frightening whether you just got splashed, have started to wade in, or are trying to stay afloat in the deep end of the pool. Those who have been in the pool can help others who haven’t gone out as far or deep into the pool. Why is that ironic?

We are not saying, “Come on in, the water is fine.” It isn’t. We are saying it is doable because, well, we have done it. We are here to listen. We get what you are saying. And, simply, if we have done it, you can, too. If we have faced our mortality and managed to move forward with our lives, well then, you can too and you don’t have to go it alone. We are here for each other.