I thought I’d talk a little bit about Cancer survival. I’ve always had a little trouble with calling all of us diagnosed with cancer as survivors. To me this means that you were diagnosed with some form of cancer, treated for it and it is now a part of your history. As one who has a form of cancer that is always present, I don’t see myself as a survivor. I see myself as on a cancer journey. The cancer is now a part of my history, my present and my future.
What I do have in common with cancer survivors and the others on this cancer journey is the rollercoaster of emotions that we all experience to some extent. And, I’ve always hated rollercoasters. Of course there’s that first indescribable emotion and physical reaction to being told that you have cancer. Followed by the inability to really hear anything else that is said after that. When one’s senses return at a later time then there’s the panic of whether one has good enough insurance for the proposed treatment, whether one will be able to work, whether one will be sick from the treatment …
In my case treatment was non-treatment for a year, the ‘watch and wait’ regimen. Each day there was a level of anxiety about whether today would be the day that things progressed enough to be considered in active disease that needed active treatment. Progressing to active disease was a relief because it meant something would be done to harness the cancer.
By this point, getting to the start of treatment, we’ve already experienced the sudden drop from a height on the rollercoaster to leveling out some to beginning the climb up the next hill as we start treatment. From this point it’s a series of hills, valleys and plateaus as we ride this cancer rollercoaster through treatment, bloodwork, biopsies, etc. Each brings its own emotional and physical response. For me there have been periods of elation as things have gone well and periods of despair when there has been the need to change treatment regimens.
All through this crazy cancer ride we are still attempting to live our lives as normally as we can. I have been able to do a fair amount of international travel that I’ve wanted to do during the plateaus and highs of my cancer. I continued to work as a physical therapist treating other people who had cancer. This was a job that I loved. In retirement I’ve been able to continue many of the activities that I’ve always enjoyed.
One of the things that I’ve had to learn is how to listen to what my body tells me and to respond to it. Powering through doesn’t work. I see my oncologist for a reason. He has the experience and knowledge to help me through my crises. And, he cheers me along when things are going well. I know to rest when I need to. I’ve learned how to space out energy depleting activities so I enjoy them. I’m in this for the long haul and intend to make my rollercoaster ride as smooth as possible with not too many teeth jolting bumps along the way.
So, whether you consider yourself a survivor, or on a journey, find something enjoyable about each day. I just noticed that I can see part of the sunset sky from the windows of my new apartment. I look for the evening colors to help illuminate my day.
Nancy was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in 2008 and with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2016. She is a retired physical therapist who worked for Penn Therapy and Fitness specializing in treating people with cancer. She is an active participant and program co-chair for the Philadelphia Multiple Myeloma Networking Group. Nancy’s passions are reading and traveling throughout the USA and Europe. Nancy was named Honored Hero for the Philadelphia Light the Night Walk in 2018.