On August 13, 2004, the doctors told me that my cancer was in remission. Everyone I knew congratulated me on the good news. The funny thing is I don’t remember being overly happy that day. I think my non-emotional response was more of a defense mechanism than anything. I didn’t want to pin all my hopes on the news given on August 13 because if the opposite news had been given, I didn’t want to be of the mind set that all was lost. I also had been cleared before in the spring of 2003 and before that I was cleared in November of 2002 (the time of the original diagnosis/surgery). So I think I was of the mindset that even though the doctor told me that I was clear, I wanted to take a wait and see approach.
As I write this article my cancer has been in remission for over two years–the longest I have been cancer-free since my initial diagnosis in 2002. Speaking to various medical professionals, I am of the understanding that the two year mark is a big milestone, especially for those such as me who have had a “reccurrence.” Obviously, the further one moves away from the date on which they have been “cleared,” the better. They tell me that the next big milestone is the five year mark. At that point, a “reccurrence” of the cancer should be minimal (although not out of the question).
The past two years have been challenging. People who know my medical history always ask me how I am doing. I always say things are going well and then their response is something to the effect of “You must be happy that the cancer is behind you.” I always respond, “Yes, I think cancer is behind me.” However, what I am really thinking is that my cancer experience will always be a part of me and a part of who I am. Unfortunately, cancer (at least for me) will always be something that is lurking in the shadows. This is especially true when what I call “a life altering decision” has to be made; the thought of relapse is the first thing that comes to my mind.
In the fall of 2005, two life-altering decisions were cast upon me. The first was the decision to purchase a house (with my common-law girlfriend), the second was the decision to change jobs. In the decision pertaining to the house, the first thing that came to my mind was, “What happens if I get sick again or worse, what happens if I die? Would my partner be able to manage financially?” In the case of the new job I thought, “What if I was to get sick again?” I would be in a situation where I would have to “re-tell” my story again to countless people at work. If I simply remained at the job I was in and become ill again, there would be an “understanding” as people would already know my medical history. These two decisions (a house purchase and taking a new job) are big enough as it is; however, these decisions (at least for me) are made exponentially more difficult when you throw in the issue of cancer and a possible relapse.
I am writing this article a few weeks before I am to go in for a scheduled CT/check-up–a time when the thought of a relapse is perhaps at its strongest. For the most part, I do not think about what I have gone through in terms of my fight with cancer; however, as I approach the date of every CT/check-up, I become more aware of my cancer experience. With every little ache and pain, with every little tweak in my body, I think to myself, “I wonder if it is the cancer is coming back.”
Once the thought of a relapse enters my mind, I quickly start to move down a slippery slope of “What would I do if the cancer came back?” “Would I have to go in for surgery or worse yet, more chemotherapy?” Would I physically and mentally be able to handle a relapse?” “I don’t think my body can take anymore treatment.” “I hate cancer!” Eventually, after a series of thoughts and questions, I usually end up with the following: if I am living with the constant threat of a relapse, why the hell am I not living for today?
This thought process doesn’t get me depressed but it makes me wonder about how the cancer has changed me–or more specifically, how the cancer hasn’t changed me. I come across other survivors whose lives have been fundamentally changed by cancer; however, this is not the case with me and I don’t know why. My cancer experience (like many) was life threatening and the probability of death was (and still is) very real; however, I am essentially living the same life that I have lived before my diagnosis. You would think that such an experience would inspire a person to fundamentally change their life but for me it hasn’t and I honestly don’t know why. I am not religious but I have tried to find some higher meaning as to why I was diagnosed with cancer. I have thought to myself, “There must be a reason for this cancer experience.” However, I have yet to find one.
I am fortunate to have made it past the two year mark. In some respects I feel unfortunate. I see other cancer survivors “making the world a better place” and, while I am inspired by these individuals, I don’t see myself proceeding down such a path. I have a somewhat new perspective on life because of my cancer experience but in terms of everything else (e.g. employment, relationships, lifestyle, etc.), it is pretty much the same and I honestly don’t know if this is a good or bad thing.