A Mother and her Two Daughters

01 August 2010

Battling Honest & Complex Thoughts about Cancer Survivorship

In her book, There’s No Place Like Hope, the late Vicki Gerard states that illness can bring back the small child within us. 

On Friday night, it was hot, I was tired, but I also was trying to finish up some of Anna-Lee’s college shopping.  After we left Bed Bath & Beyond, we had dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant; after that, a quick trip to Barnes & Noble.  I was doing my best to enjoy a normal evening.  But it just wasn’t working.  My body simply felt very battled. 

I can hear my friends now – “She should be resting.”  “She tries to do too much.” But the truth is, most days it makes me feel good to enjoy something beautiful in the world, experience life as it is, do something normal, to stay on course as a mother of two daughters.  So making this trip to shop for Anna-Lee’s upcoming departure was very important to me. 

As we drove back home, I felt terrible exhaustion, my chest and under my right arm hurt immensely.  One breast cancer sister described the feeling under your arm after lymph nodes have been removed: “It’s like having your underarm dragged across a hot asphalt parking lot.”  She was right. 

Before February, I’ve always had the energy of a squirrel, the nocturnal habits of a vampire.  When will this come back?  Will it ever?   

Lance Armstrong talks about the forever fear that stays with you after diagnosis and successful treatment – the anxiety of the dreaded recurrence.  He talks about how a pain in his toe can send him reeling into a mind-swirl of doubt.  “Has cancer returned?” 

As many survivors share, life is never the same after a cancer diagnosis.  Yes, I understand that now. 

Even with all my good news this week, I felt battled and bruised.  I remembered the many stories of courage that were told on Friday that involved a battle of many years.  My longtime friend Carla’s mom was one of the 40 survivors participating in Friday's Cancer Institute grand opening, a beautiful and brave woman who has been battling cancer for thirteen years.  There was the recognition of a very young man who has battled testicular cancer for seven years.  Each of these people could tell us their own stories about when they thought they had reached the finish line too, only to be told that cancer had snuck back into their bodies. 

Thirteen years?  Seven years?  Could it be possible that my story might end at only six or seven months?   Might I be so fortunate?  Or will this continue, and for how long?  Is it possible to celebrate still feel afraid at the same time?  

Quite honestly, the dream of going to bed and never waking up again sounded like an option.  I remember this same feeling after my husband passed away.  The feeling was an intense déjà vu.  Forever sleep or continue to face more surgery, pain and recuperation, radiation treatments, oral chemotherapies for five more years along with additional side effects, more tired days and the forever fear of recurrence. 

I felt like a child, just wanting to go to bed and have a big cry.  It was my full-blown pity party, without the friends, cake and party hats.  How selfish of me!  Wake up, Stacy!  Enjoy your big-sized bite of great news this week!  

So on Friday night as I went to sleep, I gave thanks for a wonderful week with positive news.  I couldn’t help but ask, “Why me," when there were many others who did not receive good news about their own cancer this week?

This weekend I’ve been getting my big girl panties back on, doing my best to grow up and face the week ahead, even though it means more surgery, another hospital stay, more pain pills and additional discomfort on top of the current discomfort. 

I can do it!  And I will do it!  Maybe I just needed to be a child again, have my pity party and dream about the days when there is no more discomfort and a semblance of normal again. 

I’ve often said that life would be much easier had I been born a moron – just come home at night, get into my easy chair, eat a can of Beanie Weenies, watch mindless television and believe that all in the world is fine – never worrying about the hungry, the homeless, the disadvantaged, education, climate change, abandoned animals, oil spills, economic security and the like. 

But most of us are not morons.  And for the cancer survivor, life just becomes a bit more complex.  I’m adjusting to all of these  thoughts, some of them contradictory; my mind is racing, and I’m hoping to I figure it all out very soon.  I am thankful to all the many cancer survivors who understand and help me move forward, who wrap their arms around me as I seek answers, or at least become more settled with this challenging life experience.  

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