I ran into an old friend the other day who also happens to be a fellow breast cancer survivor. When she asked how I was doing I told her that I was still cancer-free since my mastectomy a year and a half ago. After congratulating me, she instantly responded with “We’re not cancer-free, we’re in remission.”
Yeah…but… “in remisson” sounds so much worse, doesn’t it? It means I still have cancer and that it’s just not showing up right now. I don’t want to think that way. I really want to be cancer-free. What I actually am is evidence-free. As long as there’s no signs or symptoms of the cancer, I’m considered to be in complete remission.
But I’m not cured. See, it’s like alcoholism. You can stop drinking but you’ll still be an alcoholic – you’re just a non-drinking alcoholic. We removed my cancer and stopped it, but I’m still considered a cancer patient – I’m just a cancer patient in remission. Cancer cells could still be in my body, without showing any signs, even for many years. Then someday, like a sip of wine by an alcoholic could trigger disaster for him – one stray, rogue cell that grows out of control could trigger cancer recurrence for me.
So, because the words “cancer-free” implies your cancer will never come back, and there’s never a guarantee of that, most doctors will not give you that diagnosis. Instead, we are N.E.D. No evidence of disease.
It’s interesting what I hear – people tell you to forget about it- be grateful that you survived – go on and live your life. Okay. I get it. I should be happy and move on, forget what I went through. Don’t think about the small chance that the cancer may come back. Let’s just say that it’s easy for someone who’s never had cancer to give that sort of advice.
Cancer changes you. As I’ve said before, never again will you think it won’t happen to you – because it already has happen to you before. I know I fought it off once, but if it comes back, can I do it again? Mostly, I do give myself the same advice the non-cancer people give me – try not think about that. But I do. And I’ve found most other cancer survivors feel the same way.
It’s getting better. Other than the daily reminder when I shower that I only have one breast, and the variety of issues I continue to struggle with – I don’t think about it as often as I used to. It pops into my head more fleetingly now – a stray thought that I’m able to push away fairly easily most of the time. Before my chemo treatments, my friend had told me that someday I would look back on all that I went through as an abnormal blip in the timeline of my life. That the time would go by fast.
They were right about that- I can hardly believe a year and a half has gone by since my surgery. In September it will be 2 years since I had my last chemo treatment. (and yet I still get nauseous at the sight of red or pink clear liquids – only those who have had the chemo drug Adriamycin will understand that one 🙂 )
At my last visit, my oncologist said that after December, we’ll be switching from having checkups every 3 months to having them every 6 months. A milestone on my way to the coveted 5 years in remission.
During my morning run, I saw one of the homeless ladies that I regularly see on Grand River. She, as always, was wearing a coat and a smile. In contrast, I was wearing running shorts and a sleeveless shirt, sweat running down my face as I ran past her. I was burning up from my exertion, she had very likely been out there all night and needed the warmth of her coat.
She had been leaning on the bus shelter as I approached but hurried to move her cart off the sidewalk when she saw me. She said “I’m so so sorry.” I told her it was okay, I could go around. We exchanged our normal “Have a good day!” and smiles as I continued on past.
What if this lady was to have cancer? Would she even know what to do if she found a lump in her breast? Could she get to a doctor? Does anyone ever check on her? It reminded me also of Carmella and how I first felt when I realized what her situation was like for her.
It was a gentle reminder that life is good for me. Sure, I battled cancer and struggle with the aftermath, but I have a job and healthcare and a family to care for me. Life is good, even when you’re just in remission.