5 Things I Learned In The 5 Years Since I Finished Cancer Treatment

by Farrah Maliavsky
Farrah Maliavsky

So it’s here, that day I’ve been counting down to for five years. I’m sitting here in the waiting room anticipating my name being called. That waiting room that literally just the smell of makes my stomach turn. The waiting room that I sit and stare at each person that walks through the door feeling bad that they are sitting here too, wondering if this is a good day or a bad day for them and if their nightmare is over or just beginning.

The day I’m talking about is the big “five-year appointment.”

December 20th was five years since the day I finished my last chemo treatment and the doctor said, “OK, you’re done! Go live your life!”

He literally looked at me and said that. He said, “Go have more kids, go enjoy your baby, enjoy being a mom and a wife and go be a ‘normal’ 28-year-old.”

I remember walking out of his office. For one, I was feeling like crap since I just had a treatment. But I was also feeling like my head was spinning. What was normal? What just happened? I also remember very clearly thinking: Okay, well I might not feel normal now, but when I am at that five year mark- OMG! I will feel calm and carefree. I will proudly wear the title of “cancer survivor” and never, ever sweat the small stuff. I will eat my “F cancer” cupcakes that a wonderful person who’d also gone through a similar experience told me about. I will be back to “normal.” Or so I thought.

Okay, so I’m here. It’s the day I have my last appointment before reaching that momentous day of “the five-year mark.” Am I calm and carefree? Do I never sweat the small stuff? Ehh, maybe? Kind of? I’m not sure.

Does five years going by mean that I can finally walk down that dreaded street in the city and not instantly want to puke because of the smells, sights and sounds that bring my brain right back to every treatment? Does five years going by mean that the anxiety I live with every day that “it” will come back or the phantom symptoms that I literally feel and panic about on a weekly basis will stop? No, unfortunately not.

But putting that all aside, I will tell you what five years has done for me. It has made me five years older, wiser and less naive. I have now unfortunately witnessed five years worth of more horrible things going on to people I love. It has made me a mom of two wonderful kids. It has made me a homeowner and made me five years more experienced with the business that I started right around my time of diagnosis.

So does that mean all of those things I always heard about cancer survivors is actually true? I guess so.

While I still get annoyed when I can’t find a parking spot at the gym, while I still complain every night around 5:00 pm that I am done and need the kids to go to sleep and while I still wish, every day, that I was a naturally skinny person who could eat whatever I want, I will say, I am always beyond appreciative of waking up in my bed feeling good. Walking downstairs, making coffee, driving my children where they need to go, trying every workout fad there is and completing (on my own) every single mundane task of my day. It’s sad that it sometimes takes something terrible to appreciate these things but it’s true.

So here is goes. My completely cliché list that I swore I would never have. The 5 life lessons I learned from having and surviving cancer:

  1. It’s true what they say: Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s not worth it. Life is short and too precious to waste stressing.
  2. Only try to control what is physically possible to control. Easier said than done, but really, we have nothing to do with most of what occurs in our life. So when it comes to friends, careers and how we spend our days — control it and do what you want!
  3. A support team is real.While no one should ever need to use his or her support team as much as I did, it makes you realize how important it is to have one. How incredible it is to have people that will literally be at your door with ice cream, Gatorade, seasickness bracelets and ginger capsules at 12 a.m. if needed. (Thanks, Mom and Dad.) To have that person who keeps it all together, makes the thousands of phone calls to doctors and insurance companies and plays mommy and daddy when needed. (Thank you to my hubby).
  4. Stop running sometimes and look around. One super positive thing that came from a super negative thing for me was this forever lesson for me as a mom. My daughter was 6 months old when I was diagnosed, and a year and a half when I was done with treatment. I panicked that I would miss so much, not be able to take every mommy and me class and do all those fun baby playdates. What I realize now looking back is, I was able to do what was most important. I was forced to sit on my couch and just watch and enjoy. I didn’t miss one step, word or giggle. I honestly think we miss more when we are always running. So sometimes — just stop!
  1. You never ever know what is going on in someone else’s life. I learned this from both perspectives. For one, on my good days, I would go out and do things. No, I didn’t have my eyebrows or eye lashes; yes, I had the puffiest face possible but I “acted” like myself and didn’t want to talk about anything else. On those days, I remember thinking how jealous I was that these other people at baby music class only had their lunch plans to be concerned about. But that was wrong of me. I realize now that those other people could have been just as stressed about something as me, and simply not talking about it — like me. So give people the benefit of the doubt and trust that we all have a lot going on.

So, while I swore I would be different, I would be positive every day of having cancer. As much as I tried – I wasn’t. I had bad days, too. While I swore I wouldn’t say all of those cliché things you always hear afterwards, I guess I was wrong about that too.

This is not meant to depress anyone or make you feel bad for me. I am good! My point is to tell all of you is that sometimes things turn out differently than you expect. Life takes crazy turns. So live each day to your fullest, try to stress minimally and know that the ONLY THING that matters is our health and doing as much of what we love, with whom we love as humanly possible.