When you are a cancer survivor, especially in the initial period, where you are still learning about the decease, you often have mood swings as you hear and read about other survivors cancer stories. One day you feel like you are going to die, the next you are back researching, fighting, and taking care of yourself. Most importantly, you realize more than ever that now is the time to live your life.
It is very common for survivors that are cured that they go into a depressive state simply out of fear for recurrence, a kind of PTSD. This is understandable, especially for very young survivors. We go through treatments that are brutal to our bodies, some of us will have physical scars for life, and we often have been through a lot of scans and tests, where we anxiously are waiting for results that can tell us if the cancer spread, if we have recurrences etc…
It takes its toll every time you go through a screening and patiently have to wait for the result. A good verdict means time for celebration, or does it? What if the cancer comes back, what about the next scan in 3 or 6 months? What if the next scan shows recurrence?
After my chemoradiation, I often got the question: When will you know if it worked? The first time I got the question, I had to think for a while before I could answer. I was kind of curious to why that question was asked. At that point I already knew that my treatment minimum will last a year, so whats the rush? Usually recurrence in the first few years is the thing to be concerned about. (A recurrence, is bad, really bad, because the cancer usually have spread to other organs in the body).
Today where I have been out of chemoradiation for eight weeks, I actually know if my initial treatment worked. I have had a few scans since my chemoradiation (CT, MRI, PET). The answer is pretty clear. It looks like I have responded 100% to the treatment and no cancer is seen on any scan. The final verdict will come when pathology is done on lymph notes taken during my surgery, which will take place two weeks from now.
I am not really thinking much about if the result will come back positive or negative. In case of positive, I will receive a tough chemo, and in case of negative, I will receive a lighter chemo with less permanent site effects.
I have fully accepted that I can die from cancer, and that is a risk I will have to live with for the rest of my life. I am probably a little more likely to die from cancer than the person of same age sitting next to me here at Starbucks where I am writing this post. Just like flying, driving, and all of the other things we do that is associated with some risk, there is a chance that we can die from it.
You can chose not to fly, not to drive, but of course it is not our own choice to live without cancer. In my opinion, we have a choice that is much more important: We can chose to live our life to its fullest. We can respect the cancer as the enemy it is, and do everything in our power to win over it, but I refuse to let it dominate my life, I refuse to be scared, I refuse to spend one second in panic. The time I have right now, where I am still breathing, (and doing it well) is simply too important and too precious to waste on worries.
I spend time with my family in person and on the phone, I am eating my fiber, drinking lots of water, I am doing my daily trip to the gym and run 3 times a week. I no longer drink alcohol, I get lots of sleep and take good care of my mental health. A strong healthy body will heal better and faster after surgery and when in chemo. I do not have time to worry, there are too many fun things to do!
Respect cancer as the enemy it is.
If you are 50 or older and have not had a screening for colorectal cancer, now is the time to do it. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the US (and probably the same in Denmark). 60% of those deaths could have been avoided if proper screening had been done in time. Pick up the phone, call your primary physician, get it done!