Celebrating “cancerversaries” is important to cancer survivors, but what happens when years pass, and the celebrations feel too good to be true? One survivor shares her story.
Seven years ago, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, stage 2B with metastasis to the lymph glands. When I heard the words, two jumped out at me – carcinoma and metastasis. I knew those words and knew they were bad. I didn’t pay much attention to the stage or the type of cancer. The only thing that concerned me was whether I was going to live or die.
The first year was tough. Being thrust into the world of breast cancer is challenging. There were so many experiences I never dreamed I’d face, from surgery to treatment and then learning to live life after those were through.
It took time to learn to cope. Most days, I felt alone and helpless, like I’d gone to sleep and had woken up in a bad dream – a dream that seemed as if it would never end. But as I fought through each challenge that came my way, I found myself becoming stronger. I was determined to live, no matter what the cost.
As a person of faith, I found myself relying on God for each minute of the day. Whenever I was discouraged, felt unlovely, or like I didn’t matter, I turned to the Bible and found solace there.
My family and friends were also a source of strength. They offered their love and understanding when I needed it most. Without them, I don’t think I would have made it.
Learning to live as a breastless woman, I had to conquer the feelings of self-loathing and learn to extend myself grace. When I finally learned to accept my appearance, I found others did, too.
As I look back now, it seems a lifetime ago that my life was turned upside down, but it’s only been seven years.
Seven, in Biblical gematria (the study of the significance of the usage of numbers in Scripture) has great significance. It’s the number of completion. That makes this cancerversary ominous for me. With cancer, a fear of recurrence is normal, but sometimes, especially in instances like this, the fear seems to loom and a sense of foreboding engulfs me.
I wonder how to shake the feeling that maybe, just maybe, my time of being cancer-free is over. I can’t help but question what I’d do if the cancer returned.
I’d like to hope I’d fight with the same determination and resilience I did when I was first diagnosed, but it might come back with a vengeance. If that happened, I might choose to do chemotherapy instead of refusing it, like I did seven years ago. I might choose to take drastic measures to fight the cancer, instead of doing everything I could to fight it naturally like I’ve been doing for the past seven years, or maybe not. Perhaps I’d just give in and give up…who knows.
I don’t like to wonder and worry about something over which I have no control. That’s no way to live! I think I’ll make a conscious effort to stay in the zone of positivity. If I’ve survived for the past seven years, chances are the cancer won’t return. More than likely, at the age of 63, I’ll die of something else, right?
And then I think of my dear friend who also suffered from breast cancer. She was diagnosed over 22 years ago and when she least expected it, her cancer returned and took her life. When that happened, I was devastated and even more afraid than ever. But if you give fear the power, you lose.
Once, I read an acronym for the word fear. It said, “Fear: False Evidence Appearing Real.” And that’s the truth, isn’t it? Fear causes us to accept the thing that appears to be true even if there’s no substantial evidence to prove otherwise.
I can’t live that way.
So today, and every day forward, no matter how many days I have left, I choose to live like it could be the last day of my life. None of us are ever promised tomorrow anyway. And if we choose to live like we’re dying, the choices we make will be profound.
I am not going to let go of my survivorship crown, the one I’ve been wearing for the past seven years. I earned it and I’m going to trust God to give me many more years of life to live, love and enjoy.
This survivor is grateful for every minute of life and I won’t let fear scare me any longer. I. AM. A. SURVIVOR, today and forever. Amen.
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