Numbers. Sometimes, cancer and all that comes with it seems to always come down to numbers. There are a lot of numbers involved in managing life during and after cancer. White Blood Cells, neutrophils during cancer, after cancer it is things like polyps, clots, and scans to be managed. The numbers leave me overwhelmed and angry sometimes. I have to concentrate really hard on not asking why me? But asking, “Why not me?”
This was supposed to be my year, where things could really start moving in a favorable direction. But you proved to be a formidable opponent, one really insistent on raining on my parade and that of everyone else.
You’ve made me question my self worth more times than I’ve ever done before. I’ve learned to say I’m lonely because of you and that is never easy to say. I’ve learned to say that I need help because you brought me to the precipice of losing all hope. Because of you I’ve learned that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
But your lessons haven’t all been bad. I learned that stuff I liked to do as a little kid is still fun as an adult. I learned that my family is always there and always loves me. Travel is fun and something I am destined to do more of. Perhaps most importantly, I’m learning to believe in the idea that things take time but eventually I’ll get to where I’m supposed to be.
So 2020 I’m glad to see you go and I can only hope the new year gets better because after you there’s really no direction to go but up.
Today is National Cancer Survivors Day. I don’t know who made this declaration but I’m ok with it, I like that it’s for all survivors not just one type of cancer. It does make me think about those who have not survived this awful disease because survivor’s guilt is real but I think a little recognition of survivorship isn’t a bad thing.
Because sometimes I think surviving cancer is a bit harder than having cancer. For me surviving cancer has been trying to figure out what the hell my new normal is supposed to be. Surviving cancer and life afterwards is the one part of cancer they don’t seem to have a piece of literature on like they do with everything else that cancer has to offer.
Survivorship has come with periods of depression and agonizing self doubt. I feel as if my life has been on hold since September 15, 2016 and I struggling to find a way to make it move forward because there still seems to some surgery or doctor’s appointment lurking around the corner that makes me think I can move jobs just yet or take a vacation.
But there are positives that come with having survived cancer. I mean the first is obviously that I survived. Others include that I am much braver than I ever thought, I’ve done things like learning to share my story both in person and on this blog for all to possibly read. I’ve met fellow survivors in places where I didn’t know a soul. I’ve learned to make tough decisions and speak up for myself.
At times being a cancer survivor is tough but only because I now know how fast everything in my life can change. But in many ways being a cancer survivor has given me so many more positives to add to my life.
Sometimes, I think I should start playing the lottery. It’s really fueled by the feelings that I must have some sort of luck, just not necessarily good luck. I got cancer at 32, not exactly lucky. Another example of my luck, my cancer is hereditary. I saw somewhere that 10% of cancers are genetic, again luck. Finally, my hereditary cancer is from a 1 in a 200,000 genetic mutation called pTen. I mean put these all together and I clearly have some sort of luck, so it could possibly translate into winning the lottery right?
Jokes aside, I feel like my luck as brought me cancer and a rare genetic mutation as way to give purpose to my cancer journey. First, to find some sort of way to give voice to the pTen mutation or Cowden Syndrome as its often referred. Basically, as I understand it, my genes are missing some sort of tumor suppressor. As a result I’m at an increased risk of a number of different conditions including an increased risk of breast cancer, endometrial cancer, thyroid cancer, kidney cancer, colon cancer, and melanoma. As you might imagine, to learn of all these risks after learning of cancer diagnosis is a lot of information to process. What was even more to process was that this was even a possibility, because all my doctors ever talked about was the BRCA mutation, that’s really all I had ever heard talked about when it came to genetics was the BRCA mutation. And as I write this I’m realizing the first way to give purpose is to share my story and advocate for the rare mutations.
The second way I have given my mutation purpose is that I get to tell others what it’s like to go through the screenings for different cancers. After I finished radiation, I started screenings for all the other cancers where I have an increased risk. I could tell my coworker that a colonoscopy isn’t a terrible procedure the hardest part is the preparation the day before. Screening for melanoma, easy peasy you just get down to your undies and the doctor looks over every bit of you, between your toes, through the scalp and it takes no time at all. Mammograms are easy compared to the hell you go through if you don’t monitor things. And that’s usually what I point out to people if I need to, that the screening for the cancer is not that hard at all when compared with fighting cancer. And if they make the screenings a regular thing any potential cancers are probably going to be caught early, which is always better.
Probably the best way to use my luck is to continue to get the screenings for surveillance, to take control of the increased risks. And maybe I’ll buy the occasional lottery ticket.