Going Down the Rabbit Hole of Dark Cancer Thoughts


A mother of a breast cancer survivor expresses the constant worry she lives with, wondering if cancer will wreak havoc on her daughter’s life again.

Let me begin by saying that I love the internet. I love that if my grandson asks me a question that I don’t know the answer to we can sit together, and I can type in a few words and magically come up with the information I need to be able to respond. I love that if I hear a song that I like and don’t catch the title or the artist I can input some lyrics into a search engine and voila. I love that I can write these words and know that they are reaching readers that I will never meet but whose lives may be impacted by what I have to say.

What I don’t love so much is the fact that I can find research on breast cancer survival rates that make me want to cry.

I try very hard not to go down that rabbit hole, but sometimes it gets the best of me and away I go. I find it happens mostly when I am seeing the innocence bubble that was broken when my 27-year-old daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer start to reform, when I find myself starting to relax into her no evidence of disease (NED) status. I have thought a lot about why I simply can’t allow myself to let my mind rest, to dial down what seems to be an ever-present edge that I stand on.

An obvious answer is that I am protecting myself from being as vulnerable as I was when I first heard the words, “Mom, it’s cancer,” two and a half years ago. That old adage, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” comes to mind. You might think that it would be cancer not fooling me twice, but in my mind it’s actually me being the subject of both ends of the saying. My ignorance of young women getting breast cancer was what fooled me so completely the first time, and if I can be fooled a second time that’s on me.

Some might say that I stand on that edge because I am a pessimist. I could very well be. When I am down the rabbit hole, I choose to read statistics that reflect the worst-case scenario for my future, the one where I pick up the phone and hear it’s back and that it’s metastatic. The flip side of that is perhaps that I have adopted the Boy Scout motto of “Be prepared.” We would never look at a Boy Scout packing emergency gear into a backpack for a trek in the woods and see a pessimist. Families are encouraged to practice fire drills so that everyone knows what to do in the event of life-threatening situation, and we wouldn’t tell them that they shouldn’t consider worst case as a possibility and turn a blind eye to what might happen because we want them to survive.

I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that if my child’s cancer comes back it will be a mental health emergency that will require all of my survival skills to overcome. Devastating memories of the helplessness I felt when watching her go through treatment the first time is something that still crops up enough for me to need to sit down and tell myself to breathe. She reaches out frequently because something will trigger her and toss her back into the abyss and she knows I’m the only person who will really get it and will help her gain a handhold so she can climb back out. Because of that, I know I need to be ready for the cancer to return not only because of how it will impact me, but most importantly because she will need me.

I think that makes me a realist. When my glass starts to move past the half-full point, I need to take a sip of reality to level it down just a bit. The truth is that my glass is half full and half empty at the same time; she lived, but the life-threatening situation is one test result away.

I can live with that title.

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