Cancer Should Never Be a Usual Experience


I have a "usually" when it comes to cancer? How could anything ever be usual about cancer? Am I nuts?

The other day I found myself using the word "usually" in the same sentence as "cancer." I was asking a friend if she would meet me for lunch after my every six-month scheduled CT and bone scans and was telling her that usually the technician injects me with the radioactive substance, has me drink the barium, and then sends me off for the CT. I said those words without thinking. But after a few minutes, it hit me. I have a "usually" when it comes to cancer? How could anything ever be usual about cancer? Am I nuts? Four years ago, there was nothing usual in my mind about cancer except that the people I knew who got cancer, usually died of cancer.

So when I was diagnosed with cancer, especially stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, I immediately thought I was going to follow the usual pattern and die. I didn't. Instead, I lived. And almost four years later, I was telling a friend about my cancer "usual." After this long, I have a pattern, a routine. I am still surprised to hear myself be so blasé, so usual about cancer.

But let's be honest — what I have is luck. For too many people with cancer, their usual is short-lived and painful. As I heard an oncologist say shortly after I was diagnosed, how someone fares with cancer is entirely dependent upon the biology of the tumor and the biology of the person who has that tumor. Cancer is like a virus. It learns the treatments, learns the body's biology, and it outsmarts the system. I have lucky biology. I have a relatively easy usual. And I am grateful.

But I am not naïve. I know this lucky ride can end at any time. The cancer could easily learn my biology and take my life away bit by tiny bit. I've learned to live with the fear. When fear drifts through my mind, I've learned to push it away and think, "well, best get on with what I'm doing, because who knows if I'll be able to do this much longer." It might sound weird, but thinking this way makes it easier for me. And in an odd way, thinking this way makes me grateful. I'm grateful that right now I can drive, walk, attend a party, go to a play. I'm not trying to be melodramatic. It is the truth. I've seen too many people unable to do even the simplest of things as they suffer through unending cancer treatment and progression.

So Lisa and I will be eating lunch the Friday of my scan, at my usual post-scan restaurant, as I wait for my usual once a month Kadcyla infusion, after which I'll head home for my usual post-scan nap. And I will be grateful for my friend's company and care and for the tasty post-scan meal. Luck is my cancer usual and I'm going to keep on knocking on wood that the luck ride continues. I live in the world of cancer, and it's an unbelievably unusual world in which to live.

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