How are you doing now?
” How are you doing now?” is a question, I get asked with a fair amount of consistency. The sentence feels jagged and the “now” a bit piercing. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful that I have well wishers who are interested in my well being but it’s a question that provokes a certain melancholic grief. It reminds me of “then” when things were particularly rough and excruciating .A treatment storm that grabbed me and swirled me around with dizzying intensity and then abruptly let go of me. My head is still spinning and my feet are still unsteady but I am out of the storm. No longer safe from the anxiety of another one that may creep up on me some day but the initial storm has passed.
The now, this. This the life after cancer.
I am quickly approaching the anniversary of the end of all major treatment towards the end of this month. I am still trying to figure out , how I am doing now?
It’s hard to not compare myself to where I was, about 2 years ago. I am considered “fresh” or “new” among the survivors who are many years out. Some are living life with Stage 4 cancer, some are quietly happy for the passage of time without major storms, some have seen more than one turmoil. We all however, live in fear. A fear that is an inevitable part of living after treatment, now.
The fear that haunts every time there is an ache or pain. It is ,but of course cancer, is what your mind says. Every back pain is cancer in the spine, never mind the pulling and lifting the day before. Every dizzying spells is metastatic disease of the brain and every bout of indigestion may the omen of cancer in the liver. Even though I am a physician, I am not immune to this post-cancer neuroticism.
At the heart of all of this, we cancer survivors, live with loss of control over our bodies. We have been subjugated by our bodies, rebellious and rogue. We despise that.
We , then, turn to things that will help us tamper that fear. Food usually becomes a bit of a preoccupation. It gives us a sense of control.” I can choose what I eat”, I can’t rid myself of the fear but I can eat the “anti-cancer diet”. Suck it up cancer! I am in charge.
There are anti inflammatory cancer diets and sugar free diets. All efforts directed towards that chance that the cancer won’t come back. In my heart I know that it’s just hopeful indulgence. Although dietary factors certainly affect the incidence of cancer but if 16 cycles of hard core chemo drugs failed to rid me of the cancer, my kale smoothie is unlikely to turn my fate.
But I do it any ways. I try to eat the 6 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. I regularly take my Tamoxifen. In entire last year there were 6 doses I somehow missed. For the rates of medication compliance in literature, its pretty darn good.
I go to yoga and walk regularly. I have lost all the extra pounds that had befriended me during the steroid fest with chemo. I try to minimize stress and sleep at least 7 hours every night. It’s all healthy but will it prevent a recurrence, I don’t know. No one can answer this question and that’s why I keep doing it, my hopeful indulgence.
Taking supplements get tricky. I worry about supplements interfering with the absorption and action of Tamoxifen I take. Eastern medicine, alternative things, acupuncture, all sounds like wonderful ways to deal with the fear head on.
When treatment ends, even though there is a great relief, there is a parallel anxiety of nothing is now being done to fight with the cancer anymore. You are on your own. To pick up and clean up after the torrid storm.
My physical energy is slowly improving. Yes post treatment progress is slow, painfully slow. Every day is a challenge to stay energetic. I work two days a week and feel quite exhausted by the evening on my work days. I hurt overall sometimes, just a low grade achi-ness. I sometimes get overcome by saddening emotions and I feel like saying ” I don’t want to live like this”, “I don’t want this monkey on my back” “I don’t want this shadow behind me every minute of every day”.
Sometimes, I wish I could be in denial. I wish I could pretend it’s all over and close the window and slam the door shut. I wish I could be sure that I have indeed survived. But with cancer, you dont have such emotional luxuries. It’s there. You live it every day. the reality of cancer.
So how am I doing now? I am managing. I appear to do be doing everything I used to just on a constricted scale. The ever present fear, is a hole in one’s emotional reservoir and there are days I feel emotionally depleted. Then, there are days when everything feels beautiful and I am thankful for being alive.
It’s an ever changing emotional landscape in the mind of a cancer survivor.
I am trying to carry on with grace what life has handed to me, one day at a time.
I continue my grieving process. I have lost the privilege of calling myself healthy, I grieve the ability to plan retirement without a little voice saying “let’s hope”, I am no longer confident that I will see my children’s high school graduations or weddings, heck, I fantasize being old and in a nursing home.
I could be “positive” as I am told to be, but these thoughts stay in mind head. The only time they will become dormant is when I am far, far away from the diagnosis date. They will never disappear but may be less audible.
So this is me , now and I think I am doing as best as I can. I am being patient, I am being thankful, I am trying to not take a day , a moment for granted, I stop and smell the roses and the coffee and my daughter’s hair. I am trying.