Since my last post I’ve had a couple really good scans. Everything is stable. Since I have been on a good streak with scans, going forward, when news is good I am going to try to indicate that in the title of the post (rather than something unsettling like Results of Scan…). Hopefully that alleviates any momentary anxiety and frankly if you just don’t have time to read further, that’s all you really need to know. No changes, which is excellent! At this point my next scan is scheduled for January 2022. Because I am accumulating quite a few unfinished short ramblings, I’m going to throw some of those in this post and then I’ll have another post about COVID fallout/hospitals and marriage (get excited Travis) coming soon.
On the bright side, you don’t have cancer, you’re not dying.
Maybe not, but I’m living like it and that might be worse.Kayce and John Dutton, Yellowstone
I don’t care who you are, a cancer diagnosis will change you and those around you. It will change your priorities, how you live your life, and how you look at life. I have noticed that the longer I continue to go with good scans, the more I find myself a little adrift mentally. Like most other people, I strongly feel I am still recovering from all that is COVID. As little as that has to do with cancer, I fully acknowledge that there has been a blanket of fog and uncertainty over all of humanity for the past 18 months. COVID aside, there are definitely some cancer-related feelings that I’m experiencing. There’s a theory that when you give a problem a name, it helps you deal with it. I have a few things going on that are probably pretty common in cancer patients, but pre-cancer, I never would have realized people with cancer have these feelings. One is the shame of cancer. Michelle Zauner touched on this in her book about her mother’s battle with cancer.
Anything seemed possible if you just had an optimistic attitude. Maybe we hadn’t tried hard enough, hadn’t believed enough, hadn’t force-fed her enough blue-green algae. Maybe god hated us. There were other families who had fought and won. We had fought and lost-and among all the natural, heartbreaking emotions we had expected to feel, it also felt strangely embarrassing.Michelle Zauner, Crying in H Mart
All of these feeling resonate with me and as happy as I am with my current status, I am aware with a persistent trepidation that all of these feelings of shame will come rushing back if and when the scans aren’t so good.
Another issue is survivor’s guilt. Like, why am I still alive? When I was first diagnosed, my mind immediately went to worst-case scenario, just a few short years left. This happens to many metastatic breast cancer patients. And yet, here I am, still hanging out. I should be so thankful and grateful for my health everyday I keep going, but sometimes those feelings are difficult to come by and then I feel ashamed for the “hard” days when the gratitude doesn’t come easy. Sometimes the weight of it all seems to overpower my cheerfulness and hope. Every time that happens, I get frustrated.
The third thing I’ve touched on before, the constant state of flux. Not knowing what the next years will hold can become overwhelming and the ups and downs of the new COVID world has certainly not helped. I asked my current oncologist about my prognosis a few years ago and she said, “Well, we have a saying in oncology, ‘The longer you go… the longer you go'”. Wow. Catchy. Who the heck is comforted by that? I realize cancer can be extremely volatile and unpredictable, but gee whiz, that’s the saying that the oncology community has come up with?
As frustrating and irritating as all of these feelings can be, I think ultimately this mental unrest and discomfort in my head will lead to good places for me. When I was first diagnosed, I wanted to make sure I enjoyed what life I had left. I really wanted to focus on my bucket list, mainly travelling. I also wanted to take advantage of my physical abilities (running) while I still had them. While I still maintain “having fun” as one of my priorities, I have started to think about ways I can give back and engage in more purpose-driven, worthwhile projects. I think this is a result of realizing I’m still feeling pretty good and I am probably not dying anytime soon. I have some time and opportunities to make the rest of my existence a little more meaningful. I’m pretty sure there are some great ‘seeking out discomfort for personal growth’ quotes I should insert here, but a quick internet search produced only mediocre results. So here is my quote/personal pledge to myself: I will accept and embrace the discomfort because I know that these feelings must happen to learn, grow, and find contentment and peace. More to come on that journey as I continue to contemplate different ways to give back.