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?
Coming out the other side of chemotherapy, I’ve had lots of questions and comments from people, so I’ll try to address a few of them.
“You’re better now, right?”
Oh, how I wish I could answer this question. After living through the worst eight months of my life, it would be amazing if this question had a definitive answer.
The short answer is that, no, I’m not better. At least not completely. I will have lifelong repercussions from my surgery and treatments.
There is simply no going back to the way that things used to be. The trauma is too great and the uncertainty too discomforting.
Physically, it will take about a year for me to return to the energy levels I had prior to treatment. Likewise, it will take a similar amount of time to determine whether the nerve damage to my hands and feet will subside or become a permanent reminder of the stresses my body has endured.
There’s a pressure to be healed and to return to the person I used to be. That’s simply not going to happen.
Until I have no further complications for a period of five years, it won’t even be clear if treatment was successful.
“It must be such a relief to be through it.”
I really wish that it was!
There are relieving parts of reaching this side of treatment. Believe me when I say that chemotherapy is no walk in the park. I’m very relieved to have completed that phase.
But I’ve found that there can be no true relief without certainty, which is a luxury I don’t have. It’s very challenging to endure so much and to have placed so much stress on myself, my friends, and my family without being able to guarantee any kind of results.
I don’t know what relief looks like, or even if I’ll ever fully experience it. It almost feels like I’m holding my breath.
“Now you can get back to reality!”
Going through cancer treatment was viscerally real.
Unlike the outside observer, it was never possible for me to deny the reality of my situation. I’m fully informed. I’m living it each and every day. I’m experiencing the mental and physical highs and lows during every waking moment.
What’s more real than that?
Where the pressure comes in
In my experience, pressure comes from two sources:
There’s the internal pressure to be healthy. If I’ve endured this entire experience and don’t wind up healthy, then it seems like a whole lot to go through for nothing.
It might sound stupid, but this feeling seems to be largely outside of my control.
A secondary effect of this is a feeling that I’ll be letting people down if treatment fails. My rational brain understands that it’s not my fault if modern medicine lets me down, but there’s still a pressure to come through in order to minimize the impact of my situation on others.
The second type of pressure is a societal one: I need to get back to work and be a functional member of the workforce again.
I’ve never thought that a person’s value is tied to their job, but my own professional Identity is important to me. I’m worried that I won’t get back to the same level that I’ve typically performed at.
What do I do if I fall flat?
Gratitude is elusive
I should be thankful that treatment was an option. That I had a successful surgery. That I made it through twelve rounds of chemotherapy.
But here’s the rub: I fucking hated all of it. I’m pissed off and not grateful towards any of it.
Conversely, I am grateful toward all of the people in my life who’ve made wading through this hellscape a worthwhile endeavor.
Is life even worth living if we don’t get to experience friendship and love? If we’re not able to share in the full spectrum of human emotion?
I don’t think so.
So, I find myself eternally grateful to everyone who’s extended their support and well wishes. I’ve incurred a debt that, in many cases, can never be repaid.
I’m new to this whole survivorship thing. I don’t know what’s next. I’m not even sure I recognize myself anymore.
But what I do know is that I’ll face this next chapter the same way I’ve faced everything else: by putting one foot in front of the other until I end up where I’m supposed to be.
Thank you so much to everyone who’s helped me walk this rocky path. Much love.