In May I will be 18 years cancer-free after a terminal diagnosis. I am often told how blessed I am, how God found favor in me that led to my survival. I agree 100%. I am so blessed. I believe in God and feel that he blessed me with surviving my cancer long enough to see my kids graduate from grade school, Jr. High school, High School and even college! I even was hear for my youngest’s wedding! I celebrated my 30th wedding anniversary!
But a thought just occurred to me the other day. Have all of those who have told me how blessed I am to have survived cancer thought of how blessed they are never to have had cancer? To have never dealt with the Mother of All Surgeries, to have never had to deal with chemo therapy, to have never learned to live with uncertainty for years as we continually get tested for recurrence?
We do survive cancer, but we really never get to go back to our before-cancer normal. I remember missing my “normal” life after I was diagnosed and while I was in treatment.
Most of those who tell us how blessed we are also seem to assume that once cancer treatment, the surgeries and chemo are over, we can just go back to our “normal” lives, cancer is behind us. But in a sense it never really is totally “over”. We will have the designation “cancer survivor” for the rest of our natural lives. Cancer will always be a part of our lives, though the part does get smaller as the years go by (I’m here to tell you that!). We are blessed, but we are also changed.
Cancer is in some ways different from other diseases. Nowadays no one will call us “cured”; even after 5 years cancer free, we are just long-term survivors. So we never feel cancer is really “gone”. I have survived long enough now that I don’t worry about my cancer recurring (17 years NED), but I probably still occasionally worried about it recurring at 10 years. Our perspectives as cancer survivors may be different from those with other diseases, even chronic ones. It is always in the background of our lives.
I’ve tried to come to terms with a fear of dying, especially when I was younger. I think I am fortunate to be a nurse. I am very aware life is not fair. I’ve worked in a lot of ICUs and seen many people die before their time. A headache was really an aneurysm that ruptured and caused death, a child died trying to retrieve a toy from a 5 gallon bucket. I’ve seen many people with chronic diseases that have left patients with no quality of life. Physically, once I got past the cancer surgery and all of the chemo, I have physically had a great quality of life. I was in New York City and walked past the Twin Towers on September 6th, and just a few days later 3000 people who were healthy and working lost their lives. When I fear dying I try to remember these things.
Life is short and we are all here just here on a journey. I believe in a soul and am Christian, so believe in an afterlife in Heaven. I’ve read many books on heaven and near death experiences that have given me confidence in my beliefs. I’d be happy to share m book list!
I read a quote the other day I loved, “I am not a body, I have a body. I am a soul.”
Happy Holidays! It’s been almost two months since I’ve posted here, forgive me. We all get busy during the holidays, but I was also working a lot of overtime. People helped me have time off I needed so I tried to help others have the time off they needed, and the hours added up! I worked 60 hours the week of Christmas.
We have one get together, my husband’s family of about 40 gets together one day near Christmas. This year my daughter hosted the gathering. I think post cancer, I have become very aware of time and the passing of time. At the gathering there were many children I didn’t know! They were the children of my nieces and nephews. I was remembering my niece being three years old when I met her and hiding behind her mothers legs when I approached as I was a stranger. Now I think she is in her early 30s, has two children and is married for the second time with step-sons. Another niece of mine has 5 children, another 3, another 2 more. The children have come so fast and when I only see them once or twice a year I don’t know all of their names or even who they belong to!
My mother-in-law (we’ve dropped the “in-law” and I refer to her as mom) is in her 80s. She was 10 years younger than I am now when I first met her. I remember my children being infants when I first attended these family gatherings, now my eldest is almost 30.
Time passes so quickly. And the older I get the more quickly time passes…the benefit to that is that winters finally seem shorter!
But I am more aware of time I believe related to my having cancer. I think of how many experiences I have had in life and how many changes I’ve seen and all of the history I’ve witnessed.
I think that is a good thing. I am blessed to have had all of this extra time.
I just had a birthday, and I am now 59 years old. I think of all of the changes I have seen in my life, many changes just in the last 17 years that I never should have seen. I was told I was terminally ill 17 years ago. I wasn’t supposed to have a 59th birthday! Usually I’ve celebrated every year I get older as an extra year I wasn’t supposed to have. I am one of the aging cancer survivors!
We have more long term cancer survivors now, that will be interesting as America ages. For fun I looked up “aging cancer survivors” on Google, and was surprised at what I found. I expected to read of celebration, but instead it talked about how cancer survivors age more quickly as a side effect of treatment. Well, I don’t feel I’m aging more quickly!! Someone recently told me I looked 40 (never mind the fast food cashier who smiled and said she was giving me the senior rate I wasn’t old enough for that same week).
My husband and I recently decided to start working part-time vs. full time. This means I gave up my job of hospital Director of Education and Clinical Nurse Specialist. They kept me part time for awhile, but it really is a full time position. I have a new part-time job working in an inpatient psychiatric pediatric hospital. The patients there are children who have really had very difficult childhoods; many were abused physically and sexually and were neglected. Some of their coping mechanisms have been suicide attempts, self harm, sexual promiscuity and drug use. This hospital has wonderful staff and a wonderful program that really helps these kids who have been through so much. It is a privilege to work there.
With my extra time I am also doing some volunteering. I drive for Meals on Wheels twice a month, I’d done that prior for ten years, and it was a good experience. I am also a CASA, a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused and neglected children, and am now advocating for an 11 year old girl who has been abused and neglected most of her life. That is something I had done previously but became too difficult to do when I was working full time.
But I still have a lot of extra time to do things I love, like reading. I’m planning on playing my piano more and attending the YMCA more often and getting in better shape. I also want to work more for the Appendix Cancer Connection!
I just came back from Baltimore Sunday night, I attended Heat It To Beat It, the annual fundraising walk of Dr. Sardi and Mercy Hospital. The walk raised funds for research into cancers that can be treated with HIPEC: appendix, ovarian and colon cancers. Cancers that spread into the abdominal cavity. Most represented at the walk is appendix cancer. Next year is their 10th anniversary. I’ve so far been to 6 out of the last 9 walks representing the Appendix Cancer Connection, my organization, there.
I often speak to appendix cancer patients who ask me if I know of long term survivors other than myself. They feel badly they haven’t been able to talk to anyone who has been through what they have.
I suggest you go to Heat it to Beat It if you can next year. I was there 10 minutes this year and met nine and ten year appendix cancer survivors. Below is a picture taken of appendix cancer survivors, there are many. And just ask anyone with a red survivor T-shirt to talk to you, and they will! It’s a support group too!
There is HOPE there! Survivors!