Doris Cardwell received a life-changing diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer in 2007. While undergoing treatment, she co-founded a mentor program for the cancer center treating her. She also created community events to educate, encourage and empower people regarding cancer. Doris was the first Survivorship Community Outreach Liaison for her local cancer center. She is an advocate, educator and encourager on issues facing cancer survivors. Doris is a wife, mother, empty nester, survivor of life and lover of all things coffee. An avid speaker and blogger, she is available at www.justdoris.com.
Fear of cancer recurrence is a common issues survivors face. The struggle is real to keep it in its proper place. Read how one survivor sees the struggle.
As a child, growing up in the south, fireflies were called lightening bugs. I loved going into my grandparents’ yard as dusk fell to catch them in my hands. Sometimes I would place them carefully into a mason jar along with grass and twigs. My Papaw would help me punch holes in the jar lid so they would have air.
As an 11-year cancer survivor, people often tell me I don't have to worry about the cancer coming back. They tell me I have kicked it in the rear, and life is good. While life is good, I am well aware that time is not a surefire indicator that you are finished with cancer. Yes, no doubt the odds of recurrence lessen each year. I had inflammatory breast cancer which is rare, making up about 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. Having survived a rare cancer, I don't always feel those statistics of lessened recurrence comforting. I was in a slim percentage to start with. I read of people in my support group online who are 20 years out without a recurrence. They are rare, but they are there. I also read of women who are just like me, 10 or 11 years out, who developed a recurrence. Along with this information, I also read stories of women who are struggling each day to live.
Life sometimes makes me long for the ability to chasing fireflies at night. Many things have taken away my innocence and simplicity in life: childhood abuse, dysfunction, failures and random circumstances. But cancer seems to fall in a space all its own. There is no rhyme or reason, or rationale about any of it. It strikes many, often strikes hard and leaves you reeling. Healing from my childhood is a process, but one I know that can never leave me as a victim again. I know this, because I am no longer a child and I can choose to not be exposed to my perpetrators again. With cancer, I am without assurance; nothing I can do brings a 100 percent assurance it can't strike again.
This knowledge forces me to find ways to cope — tools to help me not feel like I am a firefly captured in a jar. It is not easy, but with a lot of counseling, deep breathing, yoga, grace and faith in my Creator, I am learning to trust my body and deal with this fear. When people tell me it's not something I should struggle with, I wonder how often they walk in my shoes. I look down at my feet and realize they have not walked my exact walk. Therefore, I can hear them but not take what they say too much to heart. They mean well.
I choose to shine light on this topic because too many survivors are silenced from sharing it. When the fireflies were left in the jar too long, their lights would go out and they would expire. This fear tries to extinguish too much of our light. Be a listening ear to those around you without correcting how they feel. That, my friends, is as priceless a gift, as chasing fireflies in the yard.