For my 35th birthday, the Ontario healthcare system gifted me an oncology appointment: my first since finishing chemotherapy less than a month ago. I officially received word that I'm in the NED stage of my my cancer treatment. No evidence of disease.
Heading into survivorship is an interesting thing. It marks the end of treatment. yes, but it comes with some new pressures. When your job through treatment is to focus on getting better, what do you do when there's nothing left to be done?
Finally, I'm done. One surgery and twelve gruelling chemotherapy sessions later, I'm sitting at the end of my treatment path. Well, I will be when I have my take home infuser disconnected on Sunday.
Sitting in the chemotherapy unit, I can't help but look around at the different people who find themselves in such a terrible place. Here, under the glow of mismatched fluorescent lights, between the clinical, beige walls of the hospital, people are fighting for their lives.
Dealing with cancer since February has been exhausting. As I approach my final few rounds of chemotherapy, I can't help but wonder how long the exhaustion will last. Will I ever find my energy again, or am I doomed to be a husk of my former self?
One of the quick lessons that you learn when you're diagnosed with cancer is just how important it is to hold hope as you navigate the gauntlet of tests, scans, and treatments. For those living with cancer, hope is a concept that can change rapidly and unexpectedly. When cancer becomes metastatic, hope looks a lot different than it does with less advanced cancers.
I'm marching toward the last of my planned chemotherapy treatments, carefully counting the days until I no longer feel like trash due to the wonderful, awful drugs being pumped into my veins every two weeks. It's hard to believe that, in eight months minus one day, I'll have been diagnosed, had surgery, and completed my planned treatments.
When I was attending the Gathering of Wolves, I really wanted to learn more about what people experience so that I can include some of the thinking in my advocacy work, which is quickly becoming more than supporting and engaging with people on social media. For this piece, I've also drawn from conversations I've had with people in support groups and on social media. I'm not going to attribute the lessons to specific people out of privacy and respect, but I do think a lot of these are valuable to share.
I'll let you in on a secret that nobody tells you when you're diagnosed with cancer: you feel like you lose your body autonomy. If you want to be treated, anyways. That's not to say there's no choice in the matter. You can proceed with treatment, which means consenting to an array of testing, needles, surgeries, and drugs being thrown at you. Alternately, you can do nothing and allow your body to be overrun with disease.
I'm asked often if I know whether treatment is working. With so many appointments and professionals involved, you'd think that it would be straightforward enough to know whether chemotherapy is having a positive effect. But cancer treatment, like the disease itself, is complex and—at times—unpredictable. Sure, there are statistics (which are scary as hell) and likelihoods that help inform outcomes, but the efficacy on a case-by-case basis is variable and only so predictable.