As I wrote last week, my own life may be approaching another shift. I may be returning to the world of working employment. If I am officially judged to be no longer disabled by Unum, my insurance company, that will mean, in some way, that it is time to move on, to begin yet another phase of my life. Symbolically at least, this could signify some final move away from cancer. Although, for me, looking for a job in cancer care, suggests a lingering, more permanent life-dance with cancer.
So it was interesting to read another survivor’s thoughts on what it means to leave cancer behind. Emily McAuthur is living in the UK and is an ovarian cancer survivor. She writes at Diary of a Cancer Patient.
Number of years since finishing chemo: 2 & 1/2
Level of ‘normality’ to my life now: 9/10
Number of times I think about cancer a week: too many to count
It’s been 2 & 1/2 years since I finished my second course of chemotherapy now, and I’m continuing to feel more like my ‘pre-cancer’ self every day. Recently though, I have been unable to stop thinking about the experience of being ill: remembering the day the doctor delivered my diagnosis, the nerves before having my first ever chemo treatment (and every treatment following it), the post-surgery and post-chemo recoveries, and all the countless blood tests and hospital appointments.
I don’t mean that I’ve been wallowing in it all, or getting depressed about having cancer. It’s more that I feel unable to let it go and allow it to slip into my past. I think being given a whole year until my next oncology check up has made me somehow feel insecure. Not that the cancer is going to come back anytime soon – at least I really hope not! It’s more that I’m so used to having the hospital my life, it feels like there’s a hole that nothing else can ever fill. It’s how I felt after finishing all my treatment, and my weekly trips to the hospital suddenly stopped and became 3-monthly check ups, just to a lesser extent.
It’s a very difficult thing to explain, how you can feel desperate to never have to see oncologists and hospital wards and cancer centres ever again, and yet at the same time miss the fact you’re not. I think perhaps it’s just impossible to ever put an experience like having recurrent cancer completely behind you. After all, cancer is everywhere – in the media, on the television screen and worst of all in the lives of your friends and family. In the UK ovarian cancer is still the fourth most common cancer in women (see the Ovacome website for more information), and with one in three people developing cancer at some point in their lives, the chances are you’re going to meet or know someone that has or is affected by the disease. However it should be said, while ovarian cancer is more common and less survivable than it should be, there are plenty of ovarian cancer warriors out there who are beating the disease every single day.
As I said before, I’m not sitting writing this feeling low or depressed. On the contrary, I love my life and feel incredibly lucky with the way it has turned out. It’s 5 years now since I first became ill (which at 30 years old is really quite a sizeable proportion of my life). But my life today consists of other things – I have an amazing family, fantastic friends, and I really couldn’t ask for any more. May be it’s the case that you don’t move on from cancer, you just have to find a way to incorporate it into your everyday life as comfortably as you can.