Moving forward, with cancer but not “of” cancer

I admit it: For nearly two months, I’ve been ignoring this blog almost aggressively. The excuses are legion, and more than enough for the “What is NOT Cancer” post that will follow this entry: It was summer. We went away a lot of weekends. My daughter had her best pal from Brooklyn stay for most of August and the girls demanded attention. I started doing paying work again and had trouble finding the ever-elusive “work-life balance.” I struggled with a couple bouts of “re-entry” jitters and depression.

Other cancer survivors ahead of me on the path tell me that all this is normal. And it’s also really just chatter. The truth is, I just wanted to be done with cancer. I had never understood women who just let their breast cancer blogs fall off a cliff, just stopping. Then, suddenly, I understood.

I had my first post-chemo/radiation mammogram in mid-August and got the “all clear.” Yay. I had my first post-treatment gynecology exam and got another “all clear.” Yay again. But, for some reason, I didn’t want to stand up and tell the world. I’d sign up for support group activities, then just not go. That’s pretty abnormal behavior for me, but there it is. I just wanted to be DONE. I was enjoying having more energy. What a miracle it is to go running and feel good, rather than just determined.

Then, this week, I get an email from someone dear to me. She found a lump in her breast this week. She’s waiting to get another mammogram, maybe an MRI. Then my left breast starts hurting, and my left armpit. Oh God, I think, I know I’ve just seen a bunch of docs who tell me I’m fine. But what if I’m NOT? Then, I remember I’ve been wearing a Jogbra for eight hours. I take it off, the pain subsides.

All that cancer stuff—all the data, statistics, memories and fears— comes roaring back, engulfing me. There are so many things I want to tell her, and so many things I hope I don’t have to tell her. Cancer sucks, and you’re never quite DONE.

I am beginning to think that this is the challenge: You have to figure out a way to move forward with cancer but without getting obsessive. You have to stay informed without flipping out over every study. You have to be aware of your body without turning into a pathetic hypochondriac. You have to cultivate healthy habits but not turn into a fetishist who only eats foods that are supposed to keep breast cancer at bay. You have to be a proactive patient without becoming a nuisance to your medical team. In honor of everyone who helped you when you were diagnosed, you need to be there for the women just diagnosed. Yet you need to avoid getting completely sucked into the cancer vortex again. The trick is to be “with” cancer, not “of” it.

Cancer will always be there. It has moved from center stage to the wings. I hope it stays there. But now I’m willing to admit that, even from the wings, I can hear cancer’s stage whisper.


About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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1 Response to Moving forward, with cancer but not “of” cancer

  1. Wow, exactly what I’ve been wrestling with. Thanks for articulating.

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