A cancer survivor expresses the frustration of constantly worrying about protecting her health in a dangerous world.
I like to believe I have a unique sense of strength during my 35 years of survivorship, but I’ve often likened my life to a tightrope walk. I remember the fights I’ve had to survive, the many invasive procedures and pain of shots and pokes and cuts to my body and what seemed like endless infusions that were forced into my veins to eradicate elusive or microscopic cancer cells. Now here I am at 48, thrust into this world that is filled with toxic pollutants – this and that which if inhaled or touched – can cause cancer. Sometimes I wonder if I should walk around in a suit of armor or like the movie, a plastic bubble wrapped around my being to protect me from anything and everything around me.
And how about those around me who haven’t experienced what I have? They have never had surgeries or cuts, they still live in this naive and selfish existence where they can smoke or chew tobacco and think I should be accepting of their habits because, after all, they never had to deal with what I did so I should stop complaining about it. I do feel like I have a million hang-ups and paranoias and obsess because I constantly worry about my survivorship, which hangs over my head like some virtual trophy that can at any moment be retracted. I don’t want to fall back into that abyss where I get cut, infused with chemicals or suffer through frightening biopsies. How do I coexist with other people who have not gone through what I have or refuse to understand it? It’s easy to say, “Just don’t be around people or places that will cause you that grief or anxiety,” but the truth is it’s everywhere. I’m constantly on edge. At work, where I handle pool chemicals as a certified pool operator, standing outside the bar or restaurant where three people have decided to have a smoke and I was just conversing with a friend but have to run for cover, has such a major effect on me.
I feel like an annoyance or seem like a hypochondriac, but the reality is this is my life. I have already outlived my original diagnosis by 35 years. Where is the happy medium between my existence and the ones around me, and my environment where I can cohabitate and don’t ruminate or feel like I’m going to have a nervous breakdown? How do I get others to understand? Are these just rhetorical questions or do they have real answers? Normal has always been a flimsy word for me that really has no meaning since I am anything but normal.
I do expect others to have respect for what I went through and act accordingly. Unfortunately we live in a world where there is too much focus on the self (maybe I’m included in that mess) and not enough on the ones around us and having compassion for them. Maybe this paranoia isn’t a paranoia at all, but just a real and relevant need for one another to have that overall compassion whether you have survived cancer or are just living through this journey of life.
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