Lisa Machado is the founder of the Canadian CML Network (cmlnetwork.ca), a national patient support organization based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She has been living with chronic myeloid leukemia since 2008. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why does a cancer diagnosis always come down to being a winner or a loser?
I don’t remember much about the days following my diagnosis.
Deep in my consciousness, that time in my life is a collection of still images. These images are crisp and clear: my daughter’s bright blue eyes against her porcelain skin, looking up at me in the light of the afternoon sun when I told her that I couldn’t nurse her anymore because I was taking medicine; my fist tightly clasped around her little sock (for luck) as I lay on my side for my first bone marrow biopsy; the confident, kind face of my oncologist as he explained my options.
Along with each of these images comes one overwhelming sensation: A feeling of being completely alone — the kind of alone that takes your breath away.
Yet I wasn’t alone. Not really. My family rallied around me, doing their best to be positive, in that OMG-she-has-leukemia kind of way. A few friends attempted to reach out — although let’s face it, watching a thirty-something mom with young kids confront mortality is no fun. But while I had the physical presence of people around me, including the beautiful, warm cuddles from my kids, I was essentially standing alone. It was me vs. CML.
As I began to spend a lot of time in cancer clinics, I became familiar with this us-versus-it concept. Cancer was a fight. I began to really pay attention to stories about people with cancer, those "battling" their disease, those who had "lost the battle" and those who "fought back" and won. I found these statements astonishing.
I was eager to know: Was I going to be a winner or a loser? What a strange and inappropriate concept.
Let’s be clear. CML isn’t a competition that I signed up for. I haven’t spent my life training for this event, I am not happy or even a little bit excited about the challenge. It doesn’t matter how much or how little I fight — whatever that even means. Sure, like all people living with cancer, I do my best to live well, pay attention to my health and be positive, but how it all ends has nothing to do with me.
What does have something to do with me is who joins me in the ring: an awesome oncologist, an amazing nurse who is a big supporter of people living with CML, a physician who understands, my family and lots of dear friends who also have CML. No one knows for sure who is going to be the victor, but I think it’s looking good for my side.
This post originally appeared on CML-IQ in June 2014.