I have been thinking a lot about “cancer survivorship” as of late, mostly for work, rather than my personal journey. I am in fact a cancer survivor and in February, I marked my 3-year-no-more-chemo-anniversary. And yet, I have spent very little time thinking about my own survivorship. I have been trying to figure out why that is.
In large part, I think it is because I have been in survival mode since my diagnosis in August 2013. Only recently have I started to think about the next phase of my cancer journey due to the fact that survival mode is all consuming.
Survival mode has included lots of self-advocacy and education, a double mastectomy, reconstruction, almost 6 months of aggressive chemotherapy, the death of my beloved 12-year old dog, writing a post-cancer-turning-40 manifesto, the adoption of a new rescue dog to aid in my mental health, genetic testing, and finally a bilateral prophylactic salpingo oophorectomy (meaning menopause at 40).
That brings us to August 2014. Once I made it through that year+, I suffered from what I referred to as an ‘adrenaline hangover’. Suddenly I was shifting back to a life without regular doctor appointments, without cancer being the main topic of conversation, growing back my hair, and learning what post-cancer life would entail.
My first year without cancer was spent taking naps, reconnecting with friends, learning how to sleep with implants (as a stomach sleeper, things you just don’t think about), and what hair and skin products work with new hair and skin.
During my second year without cancer, I more actively worked toward my manifesto. I moved closer to friends and family, changed jobs, and focused on my quality of life – doing the things that I felt added value (rather than stress) to my life.
Now in my third year, I am finally really thinking about what survival means to me… My work now includes some focus on cancer – reducing disparities, improving care, and so on. As with many survivors, I assume, I am somewhat obsessed with reaching the 5-year mark. My doctors are very confident that I will reach that milestone without any issues. I am a more cautious, let us not jinx it, knock on wood, and do not count your chickens before they hatch – type.
Overall, I was a very fortunate patient and am so far have been a very happy and fortunate survivor. I blogged my entire journey at educatoraspatient.com. One of the things cancer teaches you is resilience. I self-published portions of my blog in a book entitled, The Art of Falling Up.
Around the time I was diagnosed, my brother and niece (who was around two at the time) were walking near a playground. There was a small boy on the playground at the time who happened to trip and fall. My niece remarked, “He fell down”. My brother replied, “Yes, he did”. My niece observed, “He needs to fall up”.
That statement continues to serve as my motto and guidepost.