Throughout my cancer fight of the past year there has been a defined task: stay strong until there are no more cancer bugs. Keep the family together and keep the family happy – go with happy. I have the distinct honor, and yet, challenge, of moving to the next phase: survivorship. When I heard the term I just thought it meant “the time after you beat cancer.” And it is that, but it is much more. And so hard to describe.
I had a meeting last week with my oncologist called a “survivorship seminar.” I was flippant and jocular about my journey and progress until I realized this was about the rest of my life. It hit me when I got home and I have been a psychic fugue for a week: I am never going to be the same physically or emotionally.
It’s not maudlin, it’s truthful. And, it’s also tricky.
In the cancer fight it was physical – survive, sleep, eat, heal. Now it’s more psychological. Watch for side effects that could signal that the cancer has come back (e.g. monthly self exams of my chest wall which actually makes me a little nauseous to even think about. Getting to know my scar tisssue? No thanks). Make follow up appointments with doctors, including regular three month checkups for the next three years.Don’t go to see a regular massage person because your body is in such a different state than normal. Only go to exercise class that is low impact because your muscles are weak and relearning. Oh, and did I mention scheduling the next round of surgeries because I still need permanent ladies? And, don’t plan on being back to any state of “normal” until at least six months (which for me is May 1st).
I am thrilled, don’t get me wrong … I am lucky to be in survivorship. And as I navigate the new normal I am so thankful for my friends and family and their love and support. And, yes, it needs to continue. Even though the care calendar is gone. 🙂
But a new normal is tricky when your most recent old normal was cancer and the normal before that was moving to Dubai. Navigation is slow as we rebuild what our family responsibilities are – who does this chore this time? Who is responsible for dinner tonight? What is your role? What is mine?
Now I am in the family most days all day – although some days I have to nap or don’t feel well. I am meal planning and shopping; picking up children and organizing play dates. But, every once in a while it catches up with me and I crash back down. I am not used to limitations on my time or my energy and yet I have to be patient. In PreK they learn to be a STAR – Stop, Take A breath. Relax.
Because I am no longer required to “just heal” I feel a sense of pressure to be more … and maybe that’s what this survivorship thing is about. This isn’t just the time after I beat cancer – it’s 2013, the year Davis turns 40, and the twins enter kindergarten. Integrating cancer into that year and that life is what I must do.
And to learn that watching an hour of America’s Funniest Home Videos with my three kids will make you laugh until you cry every time. And that laughter is the best weapon in survivorship. Especially when it is belly laughs at a puppy.