They say that if your cancer is going to recur or metastasize it is most likely to happen in the 12 months after you finish initial treatment.
So I finished chemo on September 13, 2016. I am going to go with that date as the day my 1 year stopwatch started ticking.
The first few months were a blur. I had my exchange surgery, so that occupied my mind for some time and I was also reeling and healing from chemo. Add in 3 little kids and the holidays and you have a few months where my mind was occupied.
After the initial dust settled around 2-3 months post chemo, doubt and fear started to creep in. It was the beginning of what has become a long and winding road of ‘what-ifs.’
Now put yourself in my shoes. I had cancer and it was shocking. I was in excellent health at the time of my diagnosis, so it isn’t like I saw this coming. Now add to that that I now know that scientific evidence shows that recurrence is most likely within the first year. Suddenly everything is suspicious. And I mean everything.
The first really big freak out was the irregular pap smear that no one else seems to care about. I had lady cancer once, why wouldn’t I have it again? Mayday.
Then came a common cold that seemed to last too long. Am I in the rare percentage that now has lymphoma from chemo and my body is showing early signs of breaking down? SOS.
I seem to have more bruises than usual on my legs. That’s weird. It is probably another manifestation of the lymphoma. Red alert.
I am taking Tamoxifen, the drug that synthetically messes with your hormones in order to keep my estrogen and progesterone positive cancer from attaching to healthy cells. I was thrilled to get my period back and at regular intervals. I haven’t gotten it now in over 45 days and I have had what feel like period cramps intermittently for about 10 days. WTF.
Meanwhile, we are trying to sell our house. It is said that selling a house is one of the Top 5 most stressful things a person will go through in their lifetime. Up there with disease and death. This is not great timing, considering I can’t rule out that my breast cancer wasn’t caused by stress in the first place.
To say that the preparation and listing of my home is stressful would be a massive understatement. Remember, I have 3 small children and 2 dogs. Getting and keeping a house ‘show ready’ is basically an Act of God.
And why has no one bought it yet? What will happen if no one buys it? We already have a contract on another house, what if we end up owning 2 houses? WHAT IF THE STRESS OF THIS GIVES ME CANCER AGAIN?!
Have you caught my drift yet?
Compared to diagnosis and treatment I really thought this post-year would be a breeze. I thought I would sit around smiling at my sweet children and counting my blessings. Instead, I am counting my sneezes and keeping a record of my bruises all while assuming that the stress of selling my house is, at this very moment, generating the growth of new cancer cells.
Cancer is hard. But life after cancer might be harder. You are forced to look at every change, every obstacle, as a slip and slide back to cancer-town. You have lived through the fire and now have to wonder if the next spark is around the corner.
I may be cancer-free and done with treatment, but I am still afraid. I still need the support of those around me. Maybe not in the form of casseroles (but I will ABSOLUTELY still take one if offered), but in the form of reassurance, love and support.
I need you all to hear me when I say I am afraid my cough might mean cancer. And I need you to not shame me for that or dismiss my fear. I have seen the other side and I have a palpable sense of the panic that comes with knowing I am in the bubble for this one year.
And you know what happens after this first year of a higher chance of recurrence? A slightly lower chance of recurrence every year after that.
My cancer diagnosis was not terminal, but living as a cancer survivor comes with a terminal diagnosis of fear and potential overreaction.
You all know someone who has had cancer. Hell, you know me if you are reading this. Be careful with us. Allow us the serenity to be afraid (but functional), the courage to not always assume the worst, and the wisdom to not constantly freak the fuck out.