Today is, apparently, National Cancer Survivor’s Day.
I heard about it a few days ago and thought “oh, I will change my facebook profile picture or something on Sunday.”
Then I went to change it and I realized a doodle can’t explain what it means to me to be a cancer survivor.
When I was in an IRL women’s cancer support group, the leader always said that if you have been diagnosed and are still living, you are a cancer survivor. It doesn’t matter whether you are in recovery, in remission, waiting to start chemo, or just diagnosed an hour ago – you are surviving. And you are a cancer survivor.
I liked that thought. Instead of enduring through it, or trying to beat it, or fighting a hard fight, I was a survivor. I had survived.
I had a really hard fight – an unusual case. A lot of pain and worry. My life changed – more than I can explain. And my cancer (thyroid) has the highest rate of recurrence. But today I am doing well. I have not had to have surgery for four and a half years. My blood work and follow up ultrasounds have, so far, been very good. I am optimistic about where I am in my journey. My quality of life is even changing for the better.
World Cancer Survivor’s Day is supposed to be about telling the world what life is like – after cancer. After you have survived. So, this is what life after cancer means to me.
I am happy. I am happy most of the time. I am more optimistic than I was before cancer – which is kind of weird when I think about it… I have realized that life can be good no matter what problems you have in life. Yes, it might be hard to function with chronic pain, or constant nausea, or constant fatigue (all of which are getting better). But, I always have my family. I always have my son to put a smile on my face. I always know that I am loved and cherished no matter how I feel or what my life is like right now. To know people love you, unconditionally, that is a wonderful thing to realize. I have learned that some days are good. Some days suck really bad. But all my days are better than a day in chest surgery or the week after swallowing radiation. I have found even more empathy for people who are sick or have other challenges. There were times when I could NOT do much. Where if I wanted to go out with my son I needed to plan ahead very carefully, not spend too much energy on anything else – conserve all I could. Even the drive to where ever we were going could completely exhaust me. I didn’t do my hair or makeup much. Often dishes were left in the sink that day. I did what I could – but I had to chose which activity was important. Wearing makeup was not the priority. So, when I see someone who “looks like” a frazzled mess, I am reminded that I have no idea what that person’s life is like. I learned that family (or friends you have made your family) are very important. I have learned to ask for help. I have learned to let others help. Which are two different things. I have learned things that really do help – for most people at least. I have learned to slow down. To enjoy moments, the little things. I have learned to reconnect with my inner being – the part of me that makes me me. To listen to my body and my “heart” and find what I really need, instead of plunging head on with no thought as to what will happen when I do. I have learned to deal with hormone changes. Or at least to tell those around me that I am going through some hormone changes, so if I seem like I am losing my mind, to try not to hold it against me. I have learned to deal with pain. I have learned that pain can be clarifying. And it can also affect every part of your life.
More recently I have learned that being social helps. Instead of hiding in my basement with movies/tv, getting out with some friends – even for a while – makes life a hundred times better. I have learned that no matter where you are in life, it will change. It may not change the way you hoped, but it will change – that is the only constant in life, as Heraclitus said. I have learned to try to connect with my son on a one to one level every day. Check in with him. Talk. Ask him what he thinks, what he feels, what is happening inside his little mind and heart. I have re-learned that there is pleasure in simple things. I have learned that a challenge can be the best thing that ever happened to you. I have learned that this is NOT the worst thing that can happen to you – whatever “this” is today. There is ALWAYS something worse you could go through. That might not diminish what I am feeling, but it does help me realize that I can make it through those feelings and situations. I have learned that when you are feeling your worst you should help others. It helps you find your balance and get outside yourself. I mentor some cancer survivors, I am in online thyroid cancer support groups where I try to share what knowledge/experience I have, and I am going to start volunteering for an organization that helps survivors of sexual slavery all over the world. I found a way to help others from my computer desk or phone. Anyone can help others – you don’t have to have a lot of time or energy or space. You just have to have love in your heart.
I have become a different person. A person with new obstacles, challenges, ways to deal in life, and a new outlook. I have become someone I am proud of (most of the time) and someone I think I would like to hang out with. I have been through a lot, but I did get a lot out of it too.
I guess life after cancer is looking pretty good for me lately.
I am thankful for that.