It’s something almost all cancer patients hear when we finish treatment, “are you glad you’re done?”
There’s this idea that once the chemo is over, once the last surgery performed ,that we can just go back to how things were before being diagnosed. That life returns to the same simplicity and normalacy. The truth though is not so simple. I am changed, trauma changes people and there’s no getting around the fact that cancer is trauma. It’s trauma on the physical as well as the mental and emotional. Most of my time spent in treatment was spent almost hyper focused on the now. Getting through this day, this hour, this minute. Getting though this pain. Getting through this constant fatigue and chemo brain. There are times when I was so overwhelmed with pushing though that I would have to stop and ask myself “what do I need to get just through right now?” It makes it hard to process what’s really happening to you when all your energy is spent getting through just one moment at a time.
Sometimes I could trick myself into believing life would just go back. Daydream about life after chemo. Sometime even now in the day to day of life I can pretend my life is a lot like anyone else’s. That is until my shoe falls off my prosthetic foot, or until someone makes a comment on how my hair is coming in. It’s strange to go from putting away laundry to feeling like the air has been sucked out of you because it jumps into your head ” HEY! YOU’RE THE ONE THAT HAD CANCER, IT WASN’T SOMEONE ELSE.”
The thing is the fist time I had cancer for the most part things did go back to normal. I really did become a typical teen, a typical woman, a typical mom. Enough time started to pass that check ups became social affairs to catch up with my favourite Doctors and the anxiety of cancer coming back was gone. This time though, there’s is no going back to “before”. I know too much. I know there are no guarantees. I know there is no cured. I will always be at higher risk for reoccurrence, both because of my BRCA 1 mutation and my history with cancer. I’m forcing myself as well this time to really processing what I’ve been through, instead of shoving it away and pretending it’s a chapter I can close instead of a theme of my life story. Processing is hard, it has many ups and downs. There are days where I am so fucking grateful I get to live this life. Day’s where I look around and am in love with just watching my children play, or snuggling into my own bed. Those days I feel like cancer was a weird gift. Then there are days where I wake up soaked in blood because even though I’m in menopause the hormone treatment isn’t quiet working. Days when I want to cry because my children try to whisper secrets in my ear and I can’t hear them because chemo has taken all my high pitch hearing. Those days I seem to focus on what cancer has taken. The funny thing is the grateful for cancer and angry at cancer feelings can come and go as quick as you can turn a light on and change when I least expect it.
I went for my follow up appointment a few days ago and while everything is clear for now I got in my car and just wanted to sob. I brought my kids with me and my oldest asked why we were there, what was the Dr going to do, what was she looking for, what would happen if she found something. When she left he asked “did she find any lumps or bumps?” and look almost relieved but also like he didn’t quiet believe me when I told him “no new lumps or bumps!”
There was talk at that appointment of not if but when I get cancer again. There was talk of more surgery due to side effects from my treatment. There was talk of my follow up schedule (every 3-4 months for the next 2 years). There was talk of which scans, bloodwork and referrals come next. There was no talk of done. There will never be talk of done.