LIVING WITH NO CANCER
“What made you have such a voice from this diagnosis compared to the first one?” my friend, Julie T. asked me as she was interviewing me for a story she was writing. This was a great question that I hadn’t really thought about before now. I was happy to have the excuse to consider it more deeply this past Monday night over a glass of cold white on a hot steamy night with one of my favorite younger than me superchicks on the deck overlooking my garden.
The difference between my first diagnosis and the second is astounding. The first round I went kind of under radar on purpose. I hid out in Newport at my partner’s house and kept my circle small and tight. Too much psychological mass for my already busy brain to have to have dealt with at the time, I guess. This time around was so different. I was much more prepared, much more informed because the first time was learning and resourcing about all of the various treatments possibilities that I ultimately got to store neatly in my back pocket.
I really never considered that a second diagnosis would be so close to the first one. Many cancer survivors use the five year mark as a celebration point. I get that now because even though my first round was caught early, at the end of the day, it was still cancer. Cancer seems to like healthy fit bodies as I have discovered with my old high school friend that reconnected us because of our cancer diagnosis and my workout friend who has a terrible diagnosis. Both of their diagnosis has put me into a tailspin of eating brownies and ice cream almost daily, drinking a bottle of wine nightly, cleaning out crap from my house like I am moving and writing recipes for my son like I am on my deathbed or something. Very thankfully, I am not. I am not dying, I am not sick. I am not unhealthy. I am not my diagnosis, I do not have cancer. This I know, but this being said, every morning when I wake up usually on my back and I look down, there are these two, used to be baseballs, but now they are like bowling balls (thank you Dr. M.) resting neatly and immobile on the front of my body. It is an instant reminder that this is not a dream. This really happened to me and I have these two rockhard breasts to remind me for my duration. I also have a bizarre indentation that is not yet filled with anything from the lack of tissue that used to be there. It all had to get scooped out to keep me hopefully fingers crossed from round three. I do not want round three. I mean no wants round three. No one wants any round, but as I move forward with my lovely life almost (and only) three and a half months in, I on occasion have found that LIVING WITH NO CANCER is an interesting chapter.
Well intentioned, “You look great! How are you feeling? Big Smiles, Thumbs Up.” come at me often because of this big out in the open take me or leave me sassitude I am now known for, my own doing, I know. Kind and stellar people who I don’t know, but recognize me from the pictures I post on these writings come up to me and let me know how something I wrote resounded with them or that they passed it on to someone they know who was recently diagnosed. Lovely comments from friends far and near come at me often and I feel so lucky that the one great point of all this is I have opened my own channels of communication with constant writing about my thoughts, my feelings, my heart and my life to anyone who wants to take time out of their busy-ness to read. I totally appreciate the commentary and I never tire of its intent. The comments have actually energized me and propel me to write more.
Living with no cancer is a weird dichotomy. One part of me feels like I shouldn’t dwell on “it” and then the other part of me feels like I am minimizing “its” significance, almost forgetting that I have had this force in my body to battle with for my remaining time on this place we call Earth. How to find the balance of not affirming its next visit by perpetually thinking of its possibility (and I mean in all practicality, monthly doctor visits, upcoming second surgery in the fall, my aunt’s second diagnosis, my son’s upcoming genetic test, how can I not consider “it”) and the put my head in the sand and party hardy because all this future thinking is out of my fucking control anyway. I seriously doubt that not eating sugar and eating totally clean for the rest of my time is going to influence its decision to return or not to return. I surely don’t want to be on my deathbed after ten years of no blueberry cake and Brunello wishing I had indulged in just one more piece or one more glass.
Can I turn off the BRCA 2 switch that was turned on three short years ago by diet and exercise? Or is this all just an uphill battle that doesn’t allow me to live in the glory of cake and ice cream for the rest of my life? I wish I could be one of those people who could just be super disciplined to take all of my supplements every day without fail and eat mostly vegetables and barely a drop of sugar to pass my lips. I wish I could say that that was even a goal. It used to be, but it is not anymore. I have learned to accept my inadequacies through LIVING WITH NO CANCER in a strange and more patient way. I know there are times when I will be the healthiest and there are times when I won’t. This is life. Ups, downs, sideways, backwards, five steps forward, three steps backwards, sometimes seven steps backwards. What I enjoy mostly is my new found love of patience with myself. This is a surprising strength that I have been very surprised to gain and throughout the remains of my mostly healthy life, I hope I can keep this new friend always in my back pocket.