Martha lives in Illinois and was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in January 2015. She has a husband and three children, ranging in age from 12 to 18, a dog and a lizard.
Three years of scans every three months means finding a way to grow and change that's not limited or defined by cancer
I've lived three years now with CT scans every three months. I'm like a forest, living each season while planning for the next. The timing of my scans actually roughly corresponds to the seasons of Illinois. In late January, I had the first for 2018 at the very depths of winter (just a week later the largest snowstorm of the season dumped more than a foot of snow on my house). My next is already written on my calendar for mid-April when the peonies will be in bloom along my driveway, and if everything remains the same I'll have another one just as a new school years gets underway in mid-August. Living in three-month increments is what I do. But how much can a person accomplish in three months, especially if the last weeks within those three months is sometimes overshadowed by the dread of the upcoming tests Let's just call it a solid two-month stretch four times a year during which I could live in optimistic denial about cancer. Except when I have a new twinge somewhere in my body or when I learn that a friend similarly diagnosed has had progression of cancer or when someone I know has died from this disease. So maybe a solid one-month window of denial No wonder I find it so impossible to be the person my friends and family want me to be. They each want their "old" Martha and seem to celebrate whenever she makes an appearance, not realizing how that old me can just be an act I put on to make someone else happy. It's not hard to pretend to be that person and sometimes it even makes me happy for an instant. My friends' smiles as I do something that reminds them I'm still the same me, is also a reminder to myself that even as I change I remain the same. It's a mystery that we all experience. Yet, when there's the shadow of cancer, the changes and those similarities to my pre-cancer self can be thrown into stark contrast. I'm not going to lie, it'd be beyond the imaginable to not have cancer, but to live in denial full-time would really be to deny the experience I am living. Is this what the people who love me want me to do I often ask myself that question. Do they want me to be happy or do they really just want to live in denial themselves Is it that they want to see me living my life as I would have or is it that they don't want to see the life I do have These are difficult questions that usually have more than a single answer, and those answers typically contradict one another. These days, many of my friends (in real life and on social media) have the same diagnosis as I do. A whole world of us (155,000 strong in the US alone) living scan to scan, wrestling with the future on a daily basis, deciding how to live in a meaningful way for right now while acknowledging that a change could come at any moment. I've started to think about my scans as just an addition to the seasons that color my part of the country so vividly. They tell me that life is moving on and I am still in it, growing and changing in ways to be determined. I love the "me" that existed before cancer but that doesn't mean I'm limited to only my pre-cancer self for experiencing happiness and to be fully myself. It's not a "new normal" or a "new me" - it's simply me, not defined by cancer but living with it.