by Jan Owen James
Yes, I have had breast cancer. And I fought it. I probably had surgery. I might have had radiation. I might have had chemo. I might have lost my hair. I might have looked differently. I might have acted differently. Thank you for supporting me through that season of active treatment.
But now what? I look “normal” to you. I “seem” like I have good energy. I am acting pretty close to the way I used to, or so it seems. I may be back to work or back to the regular routine I had with the kids before cancer hit.
You say, “I’m so glad you got through it!” “I’m so glad that’s over!” “I’m so glad you’re DONE with that!”
But guess what? I have a secret to share with you.
It’s not over. It will never be over. EVER. Because I now had a new label. I am a cancer patient. Forevermore.
If I just ended active treatment and look “great,” my reality is that I do NOT have the energy I did before The Beast was diagnosed. So please be gentle with me. Even if I look the way I used to, know that I have just been through a terrible, costly war that had many, many horrible battles. I probably am suffering from some form of PTSD. Really. I may need counseling or anti-depressants to get me through re-entry into “normal” life and to deal with the expectations that others have of me. Because I’m changed.
Maybe a few months have passed since my active treatment ended. I don’t look like I had cancer now. And I sure don’t act like it. I’m doing my best to resume life as I used to know it. But the reality is life will never be the same again.
Some of us are lucky enough to be able to take a pill that will help keep The Beast away. So every day, as we swallow that pill, we say a silent prayer to ask God to use it to kill whatever rogue cells might be floating around our bodies.
And some of us have a different type of The Beast. It’s aggressive. And we hope that one day the medical community will come up with other ways to fight it. We’ve done all the treatment we possibly can. So now we wait. We wait because there’s a higher probability that this type of cancer will return. And there’s nothing we can do about it now. Except wait.
Now that we have been diagnosed with cancer, all of us have different odds of The Beast returning. Some odds are in our favor, some not. I am a cancer patient. Forevermore.
My oncologist will order tests every three months for a while, then every six months, then every year, then maybe even every few years. But if I want to continue to fight The Beast, I will ALWAYS have to go back for more tests. More doctors’ visits. More scans. More needles. More paper gowns. More pokes. More prodding. More questions.
When I fill out forms in the doctor’s office, I no longer have the ability to check “NO” to all the pre-existing conditions. I now have to check the boxes that say I have had cancer. That I have had surgery. That I have had radiation. That I have had chemo. That I have implants.
My children will now have to check the boxes that say that their mother had cancer. Their odds of getting cancer have now increased, and I would do anything to get cancer again if my children didn’t have to.
I will always have that little thing in the back of my mind that whispers, “What if it comes back?” I will always have a certain level of anxiety with every blood draw, x-ray, MRI, CT scan, mammo, PET scan and other test that my oncologist orders. FOREVERMORE.
Unless you have had cancer, you can’t possibly know this. And you certainly can’t understand it.
But it’s real to your loved one. Even if she doesn’t say it out loud, the fear is there on some level. No, it’s not usually all-consuming. It’s just there. In the background of my mind. Cancer.
For those of us who have a relationship with God, we work hard to give that fear back to Him, asking Him to transform it into increased faith. But we’re human. It’s almost impossible to escape the fear in the still of the night, when no one else is awake, when the only sounds around us are the soft breathing of our loved ones.
So we will continue to fight. Usually without words being said. We will do our very best to live life to the fullest, because one of the things we’ve learned the hard way is that life is fleeting. Precious. Never guaranteed. We have lost friends to The Beast. We have come to understand how thin the veil is between life and death. We have known at least one friend who was here one moment and gone the next. We’re not taking life for granted anymore. And we are grabbing onto it with both hands.
And we will continue to fight to be sure The Beast is kept away.
But please don’t forget our secret. And please help us through it.
I am a cancer patient. Forevermore.