Optimism Versus Realism When It Comes to Cancer

A sister of a woman with cancer writes about how the idea of recurrence faded to the back of her mind, but now she must be realistic about the future.

I never thought that I would get complacent with cancer, but in a way, I guess that I did.

January 14, 2021 was five years since my sister received her bone marrow transplant. I cannot even recall how many cancer scares we endured between then.

In the beginning, any ache or pain sent her reeling, thinking the transplant had failed or that cancer had returned. But as we got further and further out, cancer just seemed to be something that had happened. Unfortunately, she had numerous complications from the treatments that cured her. But in a way, that too became part of everyday life, and life did eventually go on.

It is not as if the possibility of her cancer returning was not there. We knew from the start that her chances of survival were not high. She had endured so many setbacks and experienced negative reactions to nearly every therapy given. She spent far more time in the hospital than she did at home.

And as much as I knew that a recurrence of cancer was likely to happen, I did not think that it would be so soon. After her five-year remission became a cure, I felt that we were home-free and that although she would likely have cancer again, it would not be until she was much older. How wrong I turned out to be.

In May of last year, we found out that my sister had cancer again. While months later it remains unclear if her transplant failed and she never honestly had remission, or if this is a recurrence — it really does not matter.

Regardless of the how, she has stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma again, and her prognosis is not good. While she initially began receiving a novel therapy, much like the first time around, she had severe reactions and could not continue with treatments. She is now receiving immunotherapy as a single-dose agent in hopes that we can at least slow the growth of cancer and give her more time. While not likely, we are also hopeful that something new is on the horizon, and when the time comes, we will be able to transition to a different therapy and give her even more time.

Recurrence was always a possibility and given how keenly sensitive I was to that knowledge, it surprises me that cancer still seemed to fade into the back of my mind with time. I am not her primary caregiver this time around, but I would be lying if I said that I still did not spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about cancer. It is hard knowing that she will succumb to the disease that we had thought was long gone. It’s difficult to watch somebody you care about go through the hell that is cancer all over again.

There are so many things about cancer that I will never forget, but somehow the possibility of a recurrence just slipped my mind for a while. And now that cancer is very much back in my life, there are days that I do get mad at myself for letting myself forget.

A cure does not always last forever, and I knew that from the start. I think that at some point, it just became easier to live in a false reality where cancer was not a possibility than it was to face the fact that for my sister, cancer was never likely to stay away.

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