Three years ago, my life and body changed forever when I had two cancerous tumors removed, both breasts, and 13 lymph nodes. I am grateful for each day that I get to walk on this earth; however, I will never be the same again. I mean it’s not like I’m wallowing in grief every minute of every day or anything, but cancer is always with me and always will be with me. Here are a few things a cancer survivor wishes you knew:
I didn’t grasp how difficult the treatment was while it was happening. After 5 surgeries in 11 months, I am only now able to realize the extent of the trauma that my body and mind went through.
My left armpit will always feel like someone is sticking me with a coat hanger.
I am constantly reminded of my double mastectomy every time I take a shower and cannot feel the water on my chest.
I cannot open jars or do pushups because I have no tissue or muscles left in my chest.
Just because you see me laughing and carrying on with my life as normal doesn’t mean I’m not scared shitless that bad cells will start to grow again and I won’t get to see my kids graduate high school.
I like to hear success stories, not horror stories. Please don’t make a point to tell me about your nanny who had a double mastectomy at 42, only for the cancer to come back two years later and now she’s dead. It’s not that I don’t care about your nanny — I really, really do — it’s just that this is my worst f-ing fear, and I simply don’t want to go there.
On the other hand, if a friend of ours is diagnosed and we’re talking about it in a group, don’t go silent and weird when you realize that I’m there. Honestly, I can take these conversations, and going silent makes me feel as though you think I have the plague. Or that you are all part of the non-cancer club who can freely talk about this, but I’m part of the cancer club. Which I’m painfully aware that I am — I just don’t need to be reminded.
Sometimes I’m so nervous when I go to my oncology appointments, I vomit in the bathroom of the waiting room. But I put on this brave face when you ask me how my appointment went as though it’s no big deal.
I no longer have control over my body and emotions. The chemicals that I take on a daily basis are totally running this ship. Some days I barely feel them, and other days I don’t even know who this bat-shit-bonkers person is. None of this is deliberate. Please don’t take it personally, and please forgive me. I’d love to not take the drugs, but you see, those same chemicals that sometimes turn me bat-shit-bonkers are the same chemicals that are supposed to keep me alive. Cool.
When people say “You’re all good now right?” … what I want to say is that I’m all good unless these f-ing cancer cells in my body decide to grow and take a tour of my body again. You see, this is how it works for me now. If my cancer returns, it’s not because I did or didn’t do something. It’s because those are the cards I’ve been dealt.
My heart breaks when I tell my son Julian that I have a doctor’s appointment, and he looks at me with fear and asks me what’s wrong. You see, he is constantly afraid that cancer is going to sneak up on us from nowhere like it did the first time. And there is nothing more heartbreaking than your little boy making you promise him that you are not going to die.
I wish people would stop using the term “cancer free” because you are never truly “free” from cancer. Back to an earlier point …I’m cancer free unless those f-ing cells decide to explore my body again.
I remind myself every day that I am not DYING of cancer, but LIVING with cancer, and I remind myself every day that I’d rather have this life than no life at all.
And don’t forget to do your self-checks in the shower and be sure to get your annual mammogram. Early detection saves lives, and had I blown off my mammogram because I was too busy, my diagnosis and prognosis would have been very different since my cancer was on the move.