Winter Is Coming: Cancer Survivor Ponders Aging and Death


Cancer has long arms for those further out from treatment coping with long term treatment consequences.

A cold day in August and a fall that broke two bones in my foot now has me pondering life and cancer. Cancer has long arms. As a survivor fortunate enough to be cancer-free seven years out from breast cancer and three years out from melanoma, I am “lucky” enough to see cancer’s long arms.

Cancer treatment, — probably my chemotherapy – left me thrown into early menopause and with osteopenia and neuropathy. Oh, and thin, breaking hair, too. Most days I choose not to think about any of that. I like to travel, walk, exercise and ride ATVs. This week, however, I fell at the bottom step of my stairs, rolled my right foot and broke my fourth and fifth metatarsal bones. Did my foot numbness (neuropathy) and weakened bones (osteopenia) in that foot contribute to what happened or to what will happen in surgery to repair me?

Frankly, I don’t like being reminded. Yes, I had cancer—twice. No, I don’t want to think about it daily. Unfortunately, now I get to share my medical history for the upcoming orthopedic surgery, wear a huge brace from the knee down, use crutches and a knee scooter, and worst of all, worry whether or not my weakened foot bones will heal properly. The whole business makes me feel incompetent and old, and I don’t like it.

This experience also is a reminder about death. I ponder the expression, “No one gets out of this alive” as I grieve the recent loss of my mom and as I think about my upcoming surgery. I try to do it in a positive way. This fall is a reminder to live life fully now while we are able to. Don’t wait to do everything in retirement. Mobility and other circumstances might not be the same then. I have been working on my “bucket list” since my cancer diagnosis and hopefully I will still be working on it when I retire, but I am not going to wait.

A former neighbor (older than me) once said “Getting old isn’t for wimps.” I have a new respect for that. I don’t like my incompetence as I try to navigate around, and I especially don’t like the worry. It feels suspiciously like fear of recurrence cancer worry. It isn’t the same, but still there is a voice whispering “bone cancer” in my head and a realization that I may get to live long enough for some of those chemotherapy side effects to have their way with me. Grr.

I will fight them. I will be a model patient. I will do my OT and PT and I will do my best to regain every single ounce of mobility. I just resent the reminders—the reminders of cancer and of aging. Thank you for listening. That said, I rejoice that not everything is cancer and that I am not dealing with a cancer recurrence.

To turn this experience into a positive one, I will use my less mobile time for rest and reflection. I will celebrate life. I will take a breath. I will even indulge in some binge back-to-back television series watching. I will strategize a plan for when I get my mobility back and I will take less for granted than I may have before the fall. I also am not above asking for encouragement. How have you coped with cancer-related side effects and non-cancer events that happened after cancer? Please share what you experience and learned.

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