Counting Down Towards Year 5 of Cancer Survivorship


Accepting the unknown and understanding why random things happen helps me be hopeful as my daughter reached five years of cancer survivorship.

cartoon image of debbie legault, a white woman with brown hair

There is a quote from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” that asks “What’s in a name?” and my thoughts are a great deal. Names are a part of our identities. They can give a hint to our history and capture a bit of our essence. What we call ourselves can represent our passions, our beliefs, our spirit.

As my daughter stares down the countdown clock towards the end of year five, which we will arrive at in November, I am tentatively shifting my thinking into a new name for her – survivor.

Statistically, the five-year mark is very significant. Yes, breast cancer can recur much later, and often comes back as metastatic disease, but for her particular type of breast cancer, getting to five years is HUGE. Most recurrences happen much earlier on — often within two years — so crossing off the days and months on the 2024 calendar when there was so much fear that we would not get here has given a new meaning to the passing of time.

I am not usually a superstitious type but even thinking about what this will mean for all of us makes me wonder if I am jinxing it. So much of survivorship is waiting for the other shoe to drop, for that scan or blood test to reveal that the cancer is back. After my daughter’s diagnosis there were many questions asked and tests done to see if there was a cause, such as genetics, for her to have breast cancer at 27, and there was none. The randomness of it feeds the ridiculous thought that I could somehow trigger any dormant cancer cells to start growing by relaxing into it not coming back.

Which is not a superpower I should wish for, right?

In a recent fear-of-recurrence session I attended, the question was asked: “What evidence do you have that the cancer will come back?” My first thought was “The same amount of evidence I have that it won’t because science cannot give me an answer about why it happened the first time.”

That sounds negative, but it’s actually a sign of acceptance. Cancer is indiscriminate and random. No study or statistic can give me the evidence to answer why she got it the first time or whether it will come back. Understanding that, accepting the random, means that I can choose to be hopeful as we count down to year five and believe we have just as much a chance at getting there as we don’t.

But I’ll still on occasion ridiculously think my thoughts will wake up the sleeping beast. Survivorship can be a bit crazy at times.

My girl has not allowed fear of recurrence to hold her back. She has allowed herself to create a present that has so much future in it. She still cannot comfortably answer the question of where she sees herself five years from now but we both have the dream of her being there. There are some days when she is rudely reminded of her cancer experience, like dressing up for a party and having to figure out how to incorporate a lymphedema sleeve into her ensemble. But there are just as many days when work and motherhood fill her thoughts and she will change into her pajamas for bed without noticing the scars cancer left behind.

As I look back on the last few months, I realize the same is happening for me. There are days, sometimes many days in a row, when I don’t think about her cancer recurring. I am working towards being ready for that dream to become a reality and I am very grateful to be here.


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