The Aftermath of Cancer – Guest Post

It is rainy and cold outside my window.  That is probably why I have forced myself down at the computer.  It is past mid-month and this is my first post for October.  So many things to finish up in the garden, in our yard and my mother’s yard, including reroofing her shed.  My new job has kept me busier than I had imagined.  I arrived with fresh eyes, the eyes of a survivor and of a cancer nurse who has seen the world.  There is so much I want to change. Right now I am looking for “low hanging fruit”, things that can be relatively easily accomplished, then on the to larger, more substantive issues.

That’s been my life lately.  Sorry to have neglected the site.  I do want to offer you today a nice essay by Tamara Rice who writes at THIS ONE’S DEFECTIVE.

The Aftermath

What most people don’t know, is that if you are blessed enough to survive the immediate medical crisis of cancer, you will still be reeling from its impact for years to come.

First there is the realization when your hair returns that people no longer treat you like you are special, and–much like after pregnancy–there is a certain loss that comes from knowing what it was like to be treated with favor and grace by total strangers, then returning to life as an Average Joe or Jane. You feel it in the way people look at you … or maybe don’t look at you, anymore. And it’s very strange. (And somewhat difficult to describe without sounding like a narcissist.)

And then there is the realization that you just went through something really horrible. You’ve been stuck in survival mode for so long–because you are a SURVIVOR, for crying out loud–and then you realize that it’s over, and you begin to see what it robbed you of.

Sometimes we don’t see in the moment. But when it’s over, the things that we lost to cancer become clear, and it’s not just body parts. It’s time. It’s sanity. It’s your memory. It’s your ability to process information (thank you, Tamoxifen!). It’s your ability to sleep at night. It’s jobs. And sometimes it feels like everything.

Did you know that 40% of those who go through chemotherapy end up filing for bankruptcy within just a few years?

Did you know that once you have come out on the bad end of statistics, it’s really hard to trust the doctor when he tells you that you have great odds?

Did you know that it’s really hard not to blame everything on the one thing you can point to and say THIS, THIS is what changed my life forever?

Do you know what it’s like to not be able to finish your breast reconstruction after a double mastectomy because you don’t have the money for the giant copay it takes just to get the “icing” put on your “cupcakes”–to borrow colorful language from a fellow survivor. Because sometimes a new microwave or a transmission is more important than two pink circular tattoos that no one but you and your husband and your doctor will ever see.

Yeah, someday I’ll get my areolas.

(When getting body parts back is on your long list of things that aren’t likely to happen anytime soon, it’s a little hard to describe the resulting frustration.)

And then there is the realization, if you survived cancer, that others don’t. Others aren’t lucky enough to go through the years and years of emotional, physical and financial aftermath. This is a gift. We get to live. Or maybe “live through it” is a better way of putting it.

And there is survivor’s guilt. And there is a longing to help others, but a lack of awareness or direction in HOW to accomplish such a thing.

Once I got the courage to approach a woman I thought was growing her very short reddish hair out from chemo. Turns out, she just likes short hair. I can’t blame her. She looks great. But asking someone if they’ve just finished chemo (and finding out they didn’t) is just about as bad as asking a non-pregnant woman when her baby is due. (Insert reference to Brian Regan’s “When’s that BABY due?” bit.) It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. She was gracious. But I’ll never forget it.

So it sucks, to be blunt. I have invited Jesus into my pain, and he has joined me in it, but he has not chosen to deliver me from it, and that sucks too.

And today, I just felt the need express this pent up frustration and anger because it’s real and it’s life. I have always believed, no matter what painful thing I have experienced, that if nothing else (if nothing else) at least one day I might be able to comfort someone going through that same pain. So maybe somewhere out there is another woman who is also in The Aftermath. And she will read this teary blog entry and she will know that she is not alone.



About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.

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