Not Everything Is Cancer (and That Helps)


Two-time cancer survivor offers the perspective of time and experience to fellow survivors.

My back hurts. On the left side, under my shoulder blade, it hurts to move and to draw too deep a breath. Common sense and six years of surviving from breast cancer tells me it is nothing more than a common muscle “catch” that will go away in a few days, sooner if I am lucky. Even so, the breast cancer survivor in me whispers, “bone, brain, liver, lungs…hmm...maybe it is cancer on my rib bone?” Survivorship gets better with time, but offers no guarantees, promises or lasting peace.

Logging the days, weeks, months and years teaches me about patience and perspective that I didn’t have right after active cancer treatments ended. When I got the melanoma, I really didn’t get as upset. I couldn’t pretend it was my first rodeo. Cancer survivorship does get better with time. Honest. In the beginning, I was pretty fearful and worn down. It can be difficult to get on with life when you don’t know if there will be more cancer or not. Strangely, it is “normal” to live with cancer fear and uncertainty as a cancer survivor. Helping others helps me. Helping my mom cope with her health issues and life truly helps me. Some days it feels better to be worrying about Mom than to be worrying about me. Giving to others helps me log my survivorship time and move on down the road.

Connecting with other people, some survivors and some not, helps me too. Even introverts like me crave social interaction and connectedness with people. When I learn and get reactions, thoughts and opinions from others, it really helps me keep my perspective and balance. People around me are an important touchstone for reality.

Keeping busy helps. I have learned to pay better attention to which activities help me to “get outside myself.” This includes everything from television shows and movies, books, people to be around, ways to keep my hands busy, healthy movement, mindfulness meditations and learning new things (not related to cancer).

Illness and disease that aren’t cancer happen, too. Ironically, those help. Many illnesses that aren’t as frightening as cancer can be a relief when you figure out that they aren’t cancer. Oh, it is only a cold or the flu or tennis elbow? All right!

Life happens and that helps, too. There have been job changes, a different home, travel, major purchases and remodeling projects. Many things happen, good and bad, and these are things that have nothing to do with cancer. Those things are worth noting.

Give yourself time. Give life enough time to happen as you get past active cancer treatment. Time, time, and more time helps more and more. Even though there are no guarantees, time does help. Cancer happens. Life happens. Regaining time and perspective will help, and truly, not everything out there in this big frightening world that we share is cancer (and, yes, after a few days, my left shoulder blade feels better).

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