Most Days, I Feel Like a Survivor. Today, I Felt Like a Cancer Patient.
The title of this post really is so accurate. Being a 2-time cancer survivor and an amputee is not always about empowering posts, challenging myself, smiles and running blades. Honestly, writing out that sentence doesn’t seem real. How can that actually be a description of my life? There are parts of this process that are still really hard. In fact, if you want my honest opinion, sometimes, they can kind of suck.
The word “remission” is tricky. If you have never dealt with cancer before, you think that means you are in the clear. That is definitely not what that means. It means you are NED (No Evidence of Disease). Yes, of course this is a HUGE deal. It is happy news. You can take a moment to take a breather. It is 100% worth celebrating! It means you are safe…for now. It doesn’t mean it isn’t coming back. It doesn’t mean you are off scot free and don’t have to worry about appointments, scans and results. In fact, once you are declared in remission, you start the whole next chapter of being a cancer patient. Or really, we can say an ex-cancer patient.
Depending on how aggressive your cancer is, depends on your follow-up plan. Since my recurrence and amputation, I am scanned every six months on my residual limb through an MRI and every six months of my lungs (alternating x-rays and CT scans). These appointments are scheduled about a month or two in advance, and as soon as I see the scheduler’s number pop up in my phone, I can feel my stomach drop and the anxiety start to set in. I get weird. I get quiet. I get antisocial. I get moody and impatient. I get reclusive. ALL of these characteristics are NOT how I would describe my normal self. It is almost as if my body and mind go in shut down mode in order to cope during this waiting period. It honestly makes me mad that this is my response, because it goes against everything I believe. It sometimes feels like I stop living because I let it consume my thought process. Cancer stole enough from me. I have the choice on how to respond to these emotions and sometimes, I just can’t help but fall victim to them. I am human, I get it. I have to give myself grace. Normally, I do and honestly, for the most part, my emotions have been in check for the last several set of scans. This time was different.
These were my 18-month scans. A year and a half cancer free for the second time. You might wonder why 18 months would bother me. I made it over a year, if anything, my anxiety should start subsiding. Last time, I made it three years in remission. All I could think about was this was my halfway mark until my cancer came back. This is when my count down would have started, to when everything would change forever. Normally, I can keep these thoughts at bay and choose my reaction. This time, I really struggled.
The Imaging Process
I went for my scans today. I checked in and waited an hour at an imaging center. I was anxious and tired from not sleeping the night before. I literally moved from the bed to the couch and cuddled up, awake with my dog because my anxiety was so high. I could feel my heart racing, my mind racing and my stomach in knots. I am sure my blood pressure wasn’t at its’ best level, but I couldn’t help it. I was finally called back and the nurse gave me my IV. Luckily, he was funny and lighthearted, which kept my nerves from skyrocketing anymore. He took me back to the MRI room. Two incredibly nice women handled my scans. One was actually a cancer survivor herself, so she could empathize with my emotions. I could feel myself holding back the tears. The cold, metal table was waiting for me, draped with a white sheet over it. I sat down in the chair next to the large machine, took off my prosthetic and hopped on the table. Now that I don’t have the bottom of my leg, I have to be scanned further into the machine. Slowly, the tray with my entire body started sliding loudly into the machine. Everything but my head sticking out. I had the IV in my arm, waiting for the contrast to be injected for the second set of scans. I had to lay on that table for about 52 minutes, as still as possible. No talking and absolutely no moving. All I could think about on that table, was how most of the time I feel like a survivor. Today, I feel like a cancer patient all over again. Poked, prodded, asked the same questions over and over again by 4 different sets of people. Of course, when the scans are finished, they can’t tell you anything and then you just wait. You go home or you stay busy if you can, and you wait. Regardless how you go about your day, it is like being stuck in a time warp. You are just wishing the day away to finally hear the results. Trust me, being a cancer survivor and truly understanding the appreciation of another day….wishing the time would pass is again, against everything I believe in.
In the Clear
Later this afternoon, my doctor notified me that I am in the clear. Still in remission with zero evidence of disease. This is the best news I could have asked for! The funny thing is, I never believe it at first. I am not sure if it is because I was misdiagnosed by others initially, or the fact that I had a recurrence. Maybe it is a combination. But as I am sharing this news, I can feel it hasn’t fully sunken in yet. It will, but I know from experience it takes me a little to feel that full relief and actually accept that I am in the clear. I think about how I felt the day I was told my cancer came back. I think about the day and horror I felt when I was told I would have to lose my right foot. I think about all of the other cancer survivors out there who don’t get to hear the “good news”. Why am I the lucky one who gets the hall pass for life, but others equally as deserving don’t? These are all thoughts that go through my mind.
But at the end of the day, I am grateful for a clean scan. I am grateful for a strong medical team and a great support system who understands my emotional roller coaster and how I grieve this process. Just because I am cancer free, doesn’t mean it’s over. It means I have a clean slate and a new perspective on life. If you have anyone battling cancer or in remission with continuous follow ups, I hope this helps you understand their process and some of the emotions they may be feeling. Now, it is time for me to go hug my babies and tell them I am healthy! Cheers to the next 6 months! Fingers crossed.
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