Wednesday, November 16, 2016


I’m not a survivor, I thought to myself. I only had cancer for like 5 minutes and they removed it. Surely you can’t class that as 'surviving.'

I mean, I was diagnosed with cancer in July, and my life flashed before me as my doctor spoke on the other end of the phone line.  I saw my children growing up. I saw myself growing old with my husband. I saw happy holidays. My kids having kids. Family time. And instead of that, I was going to die. I was dying. Or so I thought.

I broke the news to my family. And close friends. Drama ensued, tears, hugs and well wishes. We’d agreed that we’d fight it together…a team effort. And I was going to be a champion.

Then a few days later, I learned from my breast surgeon that I was actually going to live, if we acted on it. We simply needed to cut out the cancer, but to remove the tumor would mean removing most of my right breast. But if we leave my particular breast tissue behind, my cancer type has the highest rate of recurrence. Basically, if we’re being both active and proactive, we need to remove both breasts. I thought about it for all of 2 minutes and I was still okay with that scenario.

September came and went, surgery done. I had won. I was a champion. I had beaten cancer. 

And it was all just a bit easy really. And I felt a little bit guilty. For making a fuss about nothing. I’d rocked the world of everyone who loved me only to tell them a couple of months later that I’m ok. Nothing to see here.

I felt like a fraud.

I thought about other people in the world who actually have cancer. Like every day. Kids who are living with cancer. Proper cancer. Not the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ cancer that I had.

I thought about those who fought it for years to defeat it. Years. True survivors.

I wasn’t a survivor.

But then came treatment and my perspective changed on what it means to be a 'survivor.'

Despite reading up on the side effects and the vast education online and from my Oncology team, nothing could have prepared me for the harrowing toll of chemotherapy.

The sudden and shocking changes to my body.

The pain. Oh, the pain in my bones!

The roller coaster of emotions.

The burning in my hands and feet.

The hot flashes, the chills, the gasping of breath.

The too-awful-to-describe bathroom experiences.

And suddenly I don’t feel like a fraud anymore. I now feel like I have cancer. And sometimes I feel like I am dying.

I did have cancer and in reality, I didn’t cause a fuss about nothing. I’m dealing with a very real illness and it's sidekicks. The residual damage that cancer leaves with you – both the physical and the emotional – doesn’t go away immediately; I imagine that much of it sticks with you for a long while, possibly forever. It requires considerable effort and hard work to acknowledge the inevitable changes in life after cancer. And even more work to accept those changes.

I didn’t do any of that work at first. I didn’t accept any of the permanent changes coming my way. I didn’t even acknowledge that things had already changed. I honestly thought that things would just somehow magically go back to the way they were before.

But I persistently remind myself -- it could be worse. So much worse. Who needs body hair, breasts, sleep, comfort? I’m alive!

The difference between normal sick and cancer sick is that it ends pretty quickly and you bounce right back from it and usually forget about it a few days later. You’re not likely to be tortured with thoughts about that time you had the sniffles and took some cold and sinus pills. With chemo, all you have to do is recall the saline flush into your port, and you're nauseous all over again.
The past is still very visible in my rear view mirror, and the present staring at me, pressed right up against the windshield. I'm somewhere smack dab in the middle. At least I'm not at the beginning. The future truly is lookin’ pretty good from where I'm standing -- life after chemo. More joy than pain. More health than misfortune. More beauty than sorrow. More laughter than tears.
Except for the hot flashes.
Those can go to hell.
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