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?
The toll that chemotherapy takes is difficult to put into words. It completely exhausts the body and mind, leaving in its wake a world of new lows. Physically and mentally, I’ve never felt worse. It’s not so much the challenge of taking one day at a time, rather it’s that the days are so unpredictable.
My energy level fluctuates. My ability to focus and remember things changes daily. My mood shifts unpredictably.
Nearing the end of treatment has forced me to confront what that milestone truly means.
It’s probably going to sound crazy, but there’s a sadness that comes with ringing that bell in the cancer centre. It means that I’m no longer actively attacking the cancer and marks a shift to the always dreaded “watch and wait” protocol, which is exactly what it sounds like: every three months, I’ll have a series of scans and tests while we simply wait to see if anything shows up again.
I almost wish there was more to do.
Since I’m dealing with a very high risk cancer, the chance of it recurring or progressing leaves me feeling like it’s a matter of when and not if it’ll come back. That’s not to sound like a complete pessimist, but more to share a lingering fear that I have. Even with the end of planned treatments on the horizon, I can’t help but feel like it’s more of a beginning than an end. As treatment finishes, it simply feels like I’m beginning my wait to receive bad news.
Finishing up treatment and moving to “watch and wait” forces our little family to put any big changes on hold until we reach a point where cancer is no longer a factor in our decision making. This will be at least five years, assuming that I don’t have a recurrence between now and then.
Since the risk of recurrence is so high, do I even need to bother saving for retirement? Will I be able to get a mortgage, or will cancer disqualify me? What in the cinnamon toast fuck are we going to do if I have a recurrence? How can I minimize the impact of my disease on my family and friends?
These are the questions that keep me up at night.
Some days, I want to curl up into a ball and just not think about it. But life does go on. Time pushes forward, dragging us along with it. To choose the ball is to try and avoid the inevitable.
Certainly a fool’s errand. Doing nothing is just as much a choice as doing something. The only thing to do is keep pressing forward, taking the punches as they come—if they even come at all.
I should be clear: the end of treatment does not mark the end of my experience with cancer. It does not come with any guarantees. It does not mean that I can simply pick life back up where it was paused in February. Finishing treatment doesn’t provide any closure or certainty. It’s simply a change in my cancer care routine, which will continue to be a part of my life until the day I die (even if that’s 60 years from now).
Cancer has completely upended my life, so it’s hard to be grateful towards reaching the other side of treatment.
My body has been permanently scarred and altered by surgery. I have a medical device implanted in my chest that will require regular care. My hands and feet have been left numb from peripheral neuropathy, quite possibly permanently. There’s some question as to whether the chemo-induced brain fog will entirely lift. I hope it does.
But this is what it means to survive cancer. To be permanently altered, physically and mentally, by a disease that’s ruthlessly aggressive, destructive, and unforgiving.
Surviving beats the alternative but does come at a cost.
I hope this provides some perspective. I am happy to be alive and to be able to enjoy so many parts of life. It’s just that the enjoyment and happiness has been—and will continue to be—coloured by cancer.
Keep well, friends.