Being a cancer survivor is a complicated thing. It’s a lot of conflicting experiences at once. It’s walking down the street as a warm breeze ruffles the unruly mop of curls on your head, feeling overcome with a sensation of gratitude as you’re reminded for the umpteenth time just how fortunate you are to still be here.
It’s also sitting in a wretchedly familiar hospital lounge, with its garish lime green chairs and wooden tables, as you wait to receive the results of an X-ray because you’ve been having chest pains again and you’re scared. You’re scared and also incredibly tired of always being scared.
It’s intoxicating highs and debilitating lows. It’s never being able to truly relax.
It’s logging onto your social media to find out another brave person in your cancer community has died due to this cruel and callous illness. It’s waking up every day with immense appreciation for your life, mixed with crippling exhaustion from the persistent insomnia that plagues your every restless night.
Cancer can come into your life briefly, or it can be part of your journey for more than 20 years. It doesn’t really matter how long you dance with this malady or the extent to which you’re forced to fight. Either way, once you’ve been touched by this illness, you are forever changed. That might seem obvious, but I think I am only starting to comprehend the depth of my scars now.
I suppose the truth is I am weary. I am tired of waking up in the morning and being gripped with anxiety that the aches and pains in my body are symptomatic of something far more insidious than just sore muscles. I am tired of losing people, of feeling guilt that I’m still here while others aren’t, of wondering if I’ll always be haunted by the ghostly presence of my past.
After overcoming my initial diagnosis at the tender age of 23, I naively remember believing I was free. I traveled, I explored, I was voracious for adventure, perhaps because subconsciously, I knew my cancer would return. In hindsight, I am extremely proud of the courageous 24-year-old who chose to travel the world, to live and work overseas despite all the reasons she had to stay home, close the curtains, and live in fear.
When cancer returned at 25, I felt bewildered. When you have been through it once, you inherently understand how much this disease will take from you. Still, somehow I got through it. But even now, after reaching remission, I’m starting to realize the fear of relapse isn’t going away.
Perhaps it’s not about diminishing one’s fears entirely, but rather learning to accept them instead. Maybe it’s even about befriending them.
The truth is, I don’t have the answer for how to deal with the fear of relapse. If I did, I wouldn’t be writing this. The only thing I know with absolute certainty is that nothing is guaranteed.
Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, you do not know what will happen in the future. All that any of us really have is this moment, right now. Will we choose to embrace the insecurity of being human and decide to be happy anyway, or will we let the fear of the unknown consume us?
While cycling home from the hospital after my X-ray, I had the realization that I could get hit by a bus at that very minute. It’s a dark thought, certainly, but it’s a valid one. I could die tomorrow. In fact, I should have died but I didn’t. For some reason, I’m still here while so many precious people aren’t, and I will never know why.
All I know is I want to enjoy the time I have. How? By accepting the present moment exactly as it is. By coming to terms with the insecurity that comes with being a survivor. That comes with simply being human.
Right now, this body of mine may be bruised and vulnerable, but it’s still strong and it’s still functioning. I can still run and jump and feel the wind in my freshly grown hair. I can still hold the people I love and laugh out loud. I can still lie in the summer sun, and most importantly, I can still dance.
I am here right now. So I believe I might as well learn to befriend my fear.
After all, when you begin to accept the fragility of life, the fear slowly starts to lose its power.
Note: Lymphoma News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lymphoma News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lymphoma.
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