Tuesday, March 17, 2015

it's complicated

ah! i relate to this article so much.

Lost in Transition After Cancer-- NYT

and i feel lucky to have such a great therapist to talk to during this journey from the 'kingdom of sick' to the 'kingdom of well.'

(you get a free direct flight going the other direction but you have to find your own way back.)

on the day i finished my cancer treatment, i wrote very cynically about it in a journal and hesitate to share except that it might lend some insight into the complexities of finishing up treatment (or just insight into my occasional cynicism surrounding this disease!), though i think the article i linked to does it more gracefully and in greater detail.



"the day that i am obligated to look forward to, to celebrate, is here.  finally here.  and i feel just the way i thought i might.  which is not at all excited.  the cancer is over.  i can go back to my old life.  no problem. easy.  what is my old life again?  and where did i put it? if i can open the right drawer, then maybe i will find it and these burns on my chest will be gone and the breast will be back and my hair will be long again... what is the same... ?

am i better?  or am i worse? or am i just different now?  can the cancer label just be stripped off so easily?  is finishing cancer treatment really just one collective nervous smile?  will she smile back?  that's what we all want isn't it?  we want me to feel relief, to put it all behind me in one glorious day.  february 17, 2014.  precisely two years from the day we moved to this country.  the 2/3 mark overshadowed by cancer-- it always gets a prominent place at any table of mine.  so let's forget it.  let's ignore it.  let's celebrate its presumptive demise.

but it will show up anyway.  it took me nine months to get to this day.  what am i supposed to do with all that time?  every day of which i spent fighting that cancer in my head when i wasn't fighting it with an iv in my arm or under the knife of a surgeon or burning it out-- breathe in, breathe out, nine times a day for five weeks.  and today, it's over.  tomorrow i will have nobody telling me when to breathe.  the radiation side-effects will get worse over the next two weeks but then i can forget about cancer.  a month later i'll have a pet/ct scan, but then i can forget about cancer.  a month and a half after that i'll have my yearly mammogram, but then i can forget about cancer.  i'll take my hormone suppression pill every night for the next ten years but in between popping it i can forget about cancer.  maybe someday i'll get surgery to hide the fact that i ever went through any of this.  and then i can really forget about any of this cancer business.  after all, we practically all get cancer these days.  it's not like i'm unique or something.  it's not like mine should be remembered and yours forgotten.  i was lucky to get it young.  now i can get on with the rest of my life.  i was lucky to get it young.  i got to be the healthiest cancer patient in the room by default... doesn't matter that the others are statistically better off than me.  i'm not fooling with statistics anymore.  i'm done with cancer. hereby, today, proclaimed, one big smile, finished.  someone get me a flash mob."


i am so grateful to have gotten the treatment i received and by people who really put their heart and soul into their work.  i am so lucky my fears about metastases are just in the "what-if" realm.  every day i get to spend with my boys is a gift-- one i've spent countless hours fearing could be taken from me before they're grown.  so a gift never to be taken for granted.  i work hard trying to spend more days than not really trying to have a genuine "i don't have cancer, someone get me a flash mob!" attitude, but i'm afraid i'm not very successful at it.  perhaps because i don't feel like i've made it back to the kingdom of well yet.  i feel physically not how a healthy 34 year old should feel.  and my mind inevitably screens each ache and pain for signs of cancer.  some are persistent enough that my doctor hears about them.  most he does not.  many greg hears about.  some he does not.  but of course i'm aware of them all, though i think i'm getting better at finding the balance between not wearing myself out mentally while still being aware of my body, because metastatic disease is a very real possibility with this type of cancer, even decades later.

perhaps we can all agree and acknowledge to those going through it, that as with so many things in life, it's complicated, and finding the easy road back might sometimes get omitted from the itinerary.


Judy said...

I am sorry if I have left you feeling alone surrounded by the rubble. Is there some way I can be more supportive? Sending love from afar!

nina said...

I like this post a lot, regan. I think it's better than the NYT piece (which I read first thing today and wondered if I should send it to you! Obviously you found it too...).

Did you read the comments following? Even though I'm on this trip, I wanted to see what people would say. If you have time, look at the NYT picks. I think some of them are helpful in that they reflect a common thread here -- it's not over just because treatment ended.

But, even though it's not over, I am happy that there is progression in a good direction. More months under your belt with no medical crises! I don't think for a minute it's great to be where you are right now. I just think it's better. With swings toward dark moments, for sure, but unlike for the author who, by virtue of being younger, without a partner, without her own family -- seems at looser ends than you do. Am I right?

greg|regan said...

No, no Judy! You are a wonderful friend!

Hi Nina, I read a couple of the comments and then stopped. Maybe I will go back. And yes, I think she's had much more difficult circumstances all around. A longer and probably tougher treatment, younger, and crummy personal situation. Her words will speak to so many people though!