Leaving Cancer Worry and Fear in the Rearview Mirror in 2023


In 2023, instead of looking over my shoulder to see how cancer has invaded every aspect of my life, I’m vowing to face forward. No fear. No uncertainty. No what-ifs.

January. It’s the month in which most of us take stock of the previous year and make resolutions, set goals, or simply imagine what the new year will bring.

As a woman who’s been living with stage 4 ovarian cancer since 2016, January is a month fraught with heart-wrenching memories of my frightening diagnosis and my first chemotherapy treatment on January 20—also my birthday. I retired from my job of22 years. I lost my hair, my mobility, my health and my dreams of growing old with my husband as we watched our grandchildren grow up.

But, with the help of an amazing oncologist, excellent healthcare, breakthroughs in treatmentsand the grace of God, I have defied very scary odds. I’m still here.

In 2023, instead of looking over my shoulder to see how cancer has invaded every aspect of my life, I’m vowing to face forward. No fear. No uncertainty. No what-ifs.

I’m not saying it’ll be easy. In fact, it seems impossible. I’m a worrier, a type A personality who wants to be in control. Still, I’m determined to let go of the wheel—at least for today. There is far too much good happening in 2023 to look back. As I write this my daughter-in-law and son are in the hospital awaiting the birth of their first baby, my fourth grandchild. A boy. His name is Stanton Walker Irvin. I have grandma duties to which I must attend this year and for as many years after as I can muster.

In February, my husband and I will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary on Valentine’s Day. We’re jetting off to Costa Rica for a week shortly after that. Returning to Costa Rica, where I studied as an exchange student for three semesters many, many moons ago, has been on my bucket list forever. 2023 is the year.

Professionally, 2023 will be a banner year for me as an author. I have four novels releasing, including my first women’s fiction novel, which debuts in December. This story of an oncologist and her sister, who is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, draws from my experience with the physical, mental, emotionaland spiritual impacts of living with a cancer diagnosis—for both the patient and her family. Damn straight, I plan to be here for that.

Yes, I recently started mythird clinical trial—a phase 1 first-in-humans study. The first two study drugs briefly kept my disease from progressing but didn’t shrink it. I haven’t been NED (no evidence of disease) for more than a year. I won’t know until a CT scan the first week of February whether this new study drug combo is working.

I went through three different chemotherapy drug regimens (one of them twice) prior to starting a clinical trial. I had an allergic reaction to carboplatin and became platinum-resistant. But I also benefit from being only 30 minutes from a phase 1 clinical trials clinic. My oncologist, founder and CEO of the clinic, is an internationally respected cancer researcher. I can truthfully say I’m blessed.

In 2023, I will not allow the past seven years to define my happiness at being here to hold my new grandson and spoil him rotten. I won’t allow cancer to horn in on the thrill of introducing my husband to a foreign country I adored as a college kid who’d never flown, been out of the United States, or seen the ocean. I won’t let the fear that this clinical trial won’t work temper my joy when a reader writes a review saying she was touched by a story I wrote. In 2023, I won’t let worry diminish my pleasure when I look out my office and see the sun peek over the trees that crowd the open space across from the house I love sharing with my husband.

I won’t let cancer spoil the pleasure of long-distance chats with my daughter who calls everyday to tell me what crazy thing one of my three grands in Virginia has done that day. Or watching my granddaughter perform a hip hop routine in a dance recital. Or cheering her brother when he gets a base hit during a baseball game. Or laughing at the littlest guy when he FaceTimes me so he can run through the house showing me the dogs and cats and hiding from mommy.

I’ll revel in the simple pleasure of eating crunchy peanut butter toast and drinking coffee at the kitchen table while gazing through the bay window at the hummingbirds flitting around a feeder in our backyard. Life is too good at these precious moments to let cancer steal my joy.

January 2023 will have ups and downs, of that we can all be sure. Cancer only takes my joy in the good times if I let it. This year I resolve not to give it one inch, not one iota, not one backward glance. I hope and pray for good outcomes and many moments of joy, both big and small, for my fellow travelers. Godspeed. Happy New Year, all y’all.

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