When is it over? I remember having that thought often. I was so psyched to “beat it”, to survive my cancer. When could you officially declare that you’d won the battle and relax? I had always assumed the 5 year mark was the definition of “cured” in the cancer world. Everyone talked about 5 year survival rates like they were the gold standard. If you made if five years weren’t you cured and couldn’t you stop the testing– the CT scans, the x-rays, the tumor markers? Wasn’t the very long and hard battle finally won if you were cancer-free at 5 years?
Then I remember reading somewhere that the term “cure” was no longer used, we were in “long term remission” if we made it to the five year mark. I’d always felt remission to mean you still had cancer, it just wasn’t currently active. We would always in some sense be “cancer patients”. I read an article written by a cancer patient who’d read “long term remission” at 5 years vs. “cure” in a magazine in a doctor’s office. When she’d read that statement, she’d thrown the magazine across the room. I could so relate to how she felt. We want the “cure” word, the guarantee it will never come back, the permission to go back to our normal, before cancer lives. To put it all behind us. But some of the appendiceal cancer specialists feel we should have yearly CT scans for life. For life. Forever. We can never stop being vigilant.
I read a statement by a cancer survivor recently. She said we are like recovered alcoholics, in a sense. And we are. We are no longer actively in cancer treatment, and we may no longer have detectable cancer, but it’s never really over. We will always be on guard, we will always be vigilant. We are all now acutely aware of how rapidly our lives can change, how much we can lose in a very short time. We can’t go back to before cancer when we were more naive, just as a recovered alcoholic can never go back to the days before his first drink. But somewhere between the diagnosis and the recovery we aquire new skills, we deepen our character, we develop new perspectives. We become equipped to help someone else just beginning the journey. Being able to do that kind of makes it all worthwhile.