As the end of chemotherapy is drawing near, I am thinking more about the next phase of my life, the post treatment phase. I ask myself what kind of survivor will I be? They say you are never the same after cancer… Will I be? Will I be wrapped in Kale and soaked in Almond Milk? Will I be neurotic about every ache and pain that emerges and worry about “it” being back? Will I be able to resume life where I left off?
At this point ,I am still figuring out the semantics of having cancer. I have cancer, I have had cancer, or I had cancer. At what point do you become a survivor? See I have bought a charm and some other inscribed items that say “survivor” but I am not sure when I am allowed to wear them. I know I am a fighter – have always been. I am empowered, will always be. But when do I have the privilege to say, I have survived? I have survived being told “You have cancer.” I have survived a mastectomy. And chemotherapy. I have endured.
Are you a survivor when you are done with treatments? Are you a survivor when the first post treatment scan is clean? My personal conclusion, surviving the news “You have cancer” earns you the status. Scary three words these are. Even scarier than ” You are dead!” That phone call, the tone of the “Hello” in the doctor’s voice, the pause, the anxiety, the nervousness and the hesitation in the conversation, and the sadness,”You have Cancer”……the disbelief, the shock, the flashback of your entire life in a moment….”But I have a life to live, I have kids, I have a home, I have a career!”Those are the things I have, not Cancer. Who wants to “have” cancer! Well like it or not, I have it and I guess get to keep it until I am told I don’t have it anymore, or its in “remission”. The three words that are now scarier than “you have cancer” to me are recurrence, metastasis and palliation.
Perhaps being a survivor means being able to live past those scary thoughts. Past the fear of being told that you may get the signal to pack up and go any time. Past the thoughts that you may or may not live to be old. I have to admit, I now fantasize about getting demented, for that would mean I would have lived a long life. Just to clarify, the psychiatrist in me wants you to know, there are dementias that happen in early years but I ain’t rooting for those. Turning fully grey used to be a fantasy. Now thanks to chemo, the regrowth is all grey. How much life is enough anyways? Long enough for you children to grow old, get settled, have kids? At what point, does one say, I have lived long enough? Survived long enough?
Perhaps being a survivor means having had a chance to think about those questions and have your answer ready, being aware of the value of life , perhaps being a survivor means living life mindfully, having survived the ignorance of spending days without thought, having survived the lack of appreciation of being healthy everyday, having survived not knowing what fighting for your life means.
It’s a journey of discovery. I hope I am a mindful survivor. Ready to resume life. Ready to survive the next curve-ball life throws at me while holding on to that other ball called “I had cancer.”