I haven’t written for a while. The first reason is my daughter married in January. It was a glorious wedding and Carrie and Brandon’s special day was more than any mother could dream of or ask for.
Carrie’s wedding was a milestone for me. When I was first diagnosed with cancer my immediate thought was I want to see my children marry and I want see my grandbabies born. Indeed, this was an answer to my prayers and a celebratory event in more ways than one! I shed a few tears and thanked God for this blessing as I witnessed my grown daughter and her new husband exchange their covenantal vows.
The other reason is the closer I get to my five year diagnose anniversary I find I am experiencing odd emotions. I remember hearing from the medical community that the five year mark is a BIG one. For some types of cancer, if you pass the five year mark cancer free, you are considered cured. So I would assume those who had those types of cancers, the five year mark means everything to them. It is probably like a “get out of jail” card – and the hugest sigh of relief heard around the globe.
I was told my cancer, mantle cell lymphoma, is not curable but as the years pass by cancer free, the more unlikely my cancer will return. My primary oncologist, Dr. Glenn, would pride in herself in telling me during my treatment and a few years post treatment, that not one of her patients relapsed who had the same treatment protocol as I did. That was comforting and encouraging but in having cancer and a difficult psychological recovery, hard to accept as true for me. But now I am beginning to wonder . . . could I possibly remain cancer free the rest of my life?
My cancer journey brought about an amazing life change – for the good. I can think of only a few who psychologically suffered as much as I did (or people aren’t sharing with us their true mental and emotional struggles post cancer) but through the suffering and then adjusting to the fact I had cancer followed by accepting the fact I had cancer, who I was prior to cancer changed into a better person in every way. And, funny, the work continues . . . and that’s probably why I am having these odd emotions as I approach the five year date.
Being told you have cancer is traumatic enough, but being told you have an incurable cancer screams death may come soon. And then going through treatment with all this toxic stuff being pumped directly into my heart, a bizillion blood draws, a trillion PET/CT scans, viruses of unknown origin, administering daily neupogen shots, the fear of an infected port line, blood transfusions and platelet transfusions, the fear of pneumonia, having radioactive isotopes dripped into my body, facing a stem cell transplant and denying the extreme seriousness of this transplant, being told by someone this is critically serious and I could die, terrible mouth sores and gut sores, hallucinations . . . oh, I’ll stop there as I could go on and on.
But I survived! I survived all that to only find myself in a very deep, dark depression that seemed to last for a very long time. I never thought a time would come that I wouldn’t find myself thinking every dee dang day about my cancer. I never thought a day would come when I wouldn’t think about relapse and so I waited for it. I would read from survivors, “Cancer doesn’t define me.” What? Cancer defines every inch of my life down to the nucleus of every cell. That statement infuriated me!
But with the help of some counseling and the bedrock of my faith, I came out of my depression and began to move forward. Instead of thinking and planning only three months out, I began planning six months ahead and then I found myself thinking a year from now. And then I realized I didn’t think about cancer every day or even for a few days. As research progressed in the short time from my diagnose, mantle cell may never be cured but the cancer can be maintained by a new generation of drugs; knowing this alleviated my fear of recurrence and death no longer screamed at me..
So where did all this bad news go? I lived with a “bad” outlook for years after my treatment. I waited for the 60-70% non-cure rate to manifest in my life. I was hyper-vigilant and wary, I submerged myself into the cancer world reading everything I could. I advocated and mentored. I empathized and shared people’s fear and sorrow. Always thinking it will soon come back – but it didn’t, it hasn’t.
While in-patient at Huntsman, living there for either a 5 day or 7 day stint, the nursing staff became my life line. I got to know the patients who shared the same treatment schedule. I saw parents and children of those who were being treated. I listened to Jason’s plans of summer camping once his treatment was finished. I saw a family come daily to be with their wife and mother. Jason died, the wife and mother died. I walked the halls to exercise my sedentary body. I was there in the heat of summer and I was there at the first snowfall.
That life was so in my face, hyper-colored and five senses; it was intense and driven, laser focused and unreally real. And now? I am moving further and further away from that life. And that is it. That fight or die existence is becoming a distant memory; all those emotions are becoming fuzzy. How do I incorporate that life and my almost extended five year mark life?
. . . conclusion following . . .