Canceritis After Breast Cancer


Focusing on recurrence after a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, my first thought was that I'd been given a death sentence. I wondered how much time I had left. I became fearful. I went through all the motions following the doctors’ orders to a T. I had the recommended surgeries, completed all courses of treatment and I was a good patient. But now that my active treatment is officially over, I think I've developed a new malady ... “Canceritis.”

It's common, I’ve heard, for cancer survivors to live in a constant fear of recurrence. After all, who wouldn't be scared to death that one of those random, rogue cancer cells might still be lurking around in their body? Surgeons can do amazing things, but they never guarantee they can get all of the cancer. When treatment is over, it's difficult to go from being constantly proactive in fighting cancer to being able to just lean back and relax, let down the guard, and just get back to living life. Every new ache and pain causes a feeling of dread, and a wondering of the big “what if.”

I was overcome by random pains yesterday. I hadn't felt anything like that since having surgery. It was scary. Deep inside my right chest wall, there was a constant nagging pain. I reached up to touch the place where my breasts once resided and winced when my fingers brushed against the incision. As I felt along the surgical line, I noticed that several places were sensitive and seemed to be enlarged. Had those been there before? Were these places of concern? Should I call my doctor? I was on edge and very nervous.

I put some lotion on my hand and began to smooth it gently onto my skin. I made a mental note of every lump, bump, nook and cranny. I wanted to memorize each place and how it felt so I could recheck it in a day or two.

As I continued palpating my skin, I realized that I must have developed just a touch of Canceritis, a fear cancer recurrence. While I don't want to admit it, it was definitely true. Canceritis has gotten to be a common and hardly treatable side effects of breast cancer. There are so many remedies for other cancer side effects like nausea, hair loss, etc. The body heals, although it may often take some time, but the mind ... that's another story. There's only one cure for healing the mind, and that’s faith.

How does a cancer patient learn to relax and let go of the fearfulness recurrence brings with it? The only way I know to combat fear is by countering it with faith. Why should I allow fear of the unknown to have power and control over my life? I don't want to borrow trouble! So instead of focusing on every little ache, every random pain, every new lump or bump I might feel, I'm going to leave the diagnosing to my medical staff. Of course, I will pay attention to my body and I will report anything that seems suspicious, but I'm not going to dwell on it and live in a constant state of Canceritis.

A couple of Tylenol knocked the edge off the pains I was having in my chest. This morning, it's barely noticeable. I'm thankful I don't have to walk in fear, because that's a dangerous place to be. I'd rather think positively and realize that I probably overdid it yesterday. I was quite busy and did lift several items I probably shouldn't have. Maybe I strained a muscle or perhaps the scar tissue in that area was just loosening up a bit. In any case, I'm feeling better.

I never asked for cancer to come into my life. It was certainly an unwelcomed guest. I never want to have to think about the possibility of recurrence. While surfing the internet the other day, I came across a beautiful poem by Michael Hayes Samuelson that speaks so profoundly into the lives of breast cancer survivors, and it has certainly meant a lot to me. I’d like to share it with you here:

Close the Door When You Leave

By Michael Hayes Samuelson

I never asked you to visit…at least I don’t believe I did

Maybe…I don’t know

It’s so confusing

At any rate, you’re a rude guest

You take my energy,

Rob my sleep, and with a stick

You swirl and distort my dreams

All right; You are here -- for now

But understand

There are two places

That are forever off limits

You may not tread on my spirit

You may not occupy my soul

I have heard of your visits to others

I know the damage you leave in your path

The wanton disregard for innocence, value, and what some would call fairness

Also, I hear that laughter confuses you; that good foods make you feel bad, and

That nothing causes you more distress than an autumn sunset, the forever blue of a summer sky,

Or the unconditional radiance of a child’s smile

Listen and understand

You might pilfer my closets, empty all the drawers, and trash my house

But there are two places forever off limits

You may not tread on my spirit

You may not occupy my soul

Do not mistake my nausea, weakness, and pain as signs of your victory

They are simply small dents in the armor I wear to fight you

Instead, look deeply into my eyes

They will once again remind you that there are two places forever off limits

You must not…

May not…

Will not tread on my spirit

You must not…

May not…

Will not occupy my soul

Canceritis may come and go. I'm sure in the days ahead, I will experience more aches and pains that may lead me to become just a tiny bit fearful again. But those aches and pains, along with that fear, can only touch my body. It can't ever touch my spirit or my soul. I will not choose to walk in fear, but instead will choose to walk in faith. My days are numbered by my Heavenly Father, and He is the only one who knows when He will call me home. Until that day, I've got a whole lot of living left to do! Fear is crippling. Faith is freeing. I make the choice and so can you. There’s no need for us to spend our days worrying about what might happen. My grandmother used to say, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but never takes you anywhere.” If worrying isn’t productive, why bother spending time and energy doing it?

As cancer survivors, I think we all suffer some degree of concern over the possibility of a recurrence. After the trauma experienced in each of our individual cases, Canceritis just seems to come with the territory, but we don’t have to let it consume us. None of us invited cancer to come into our lives or decimate our bodies. I’d like to reiterate, as Mr. Samuelson states in his poem, “…there are two places forever off limits — You may not tread on my spirit, You may not occupy my soul.” So please close the door when you leave cancer and never return! You aren’t welcome here.

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