In the classic movie, Miracle on 34th Street, at the end, there's the famous quote: "Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus." It speaks to a child and her mother's doubts that there really is a Santa Claus, until, at the end, there is "evidence" to prove her wrong.
Well, contrary to most people's beliefs when they are experiencing cancer, it's hard to imagine that there is life after. Let's take a look at this.
For many of us, until we actually go through an experience of some sort, we can't imagine what it will be like or that's definable. If you haven't done it, had it, tried it, tasted it, it's hard to imagine what it will be like. There are things we dream of doing our whole lives. For example, if you're a girl/young woman, you dream of the perfect wedding day. It's how we are socialized. But, until you plan that wedding and it actually happens, you don't know the excitement of it. You can only anticipate. Another example. If you're a woman, pregnant, you know there will eventually be the end of the pregnancy, culminating in the birth of this magnificent child. However, in the latter months of a pregnancy, you swear you will be fat and uncomfortable forever, until ultimately, out that tiny miracle comes.
So, let's take this to cancer. First, you never think you'll get it. Even if you're genetically pre-destined, even if you have signs, you always hope and pray you won't. But, then you do. Once you have the cancer, there is everything to go through. There's the examination, the diagnosis, the consults, finding doctors, surgery (often), regimens -- e.g. chemotherapy, radiation. Then, there's quite possibly hair loss, feeling awful, etc. You wonder if it will EVER go away.
When I was in the throes of breast cancer, I thought it would never end. Truthfully, they told me that when the tumor was removed I was technically "cancer-free." However, that was just the start to all of the treatment, discomfort, pain, and all that jazz. Once treatment ended (about nine months after the original diagnosis), I was excited that it was over and I could get on with my life. I was involved with a cancer support group and they warned me not to be too optimistic. In fact, they said, "Sorry, Ann, but you will continue to be wiped out and exhausted for at least another year." I denied that could happen. I said I would show them. And, well, they were right. The cancer was nearly a two-year experience. I thought it would never end, but it did.
Yes, slowly, I noticed that my life started to straighten out. There is much more I could share with you about what my experience was like. For example, I had moved to NYC just 3.5 years before, at the age of 60, after a divorce. New York was a new adventure for me. I was proud of being brave enough to relocate to the Big Apple and have a new life. Of course, cancer wasn't part of that plan. In addition to the bother, pain, etc., of the actual cancer, there was the fact that I was a 60-plus woman, living alone in NYC, far away from my son and other family members.
I had friends who helped a lot. Some flew in for chemo treatments, others (who lived in New York) helped in between. People set up a grocery service for me so all I needed could be delivered. But, in the end, at night, when I felt really awful, there was no one to turn to on the pillow on the other side of the bed and say, "Honey, could you get me ______?" It was indeed, a challenge.
However, about a year after my last radiation treatment, I felt an upswing in energy. Even though I had continued to work throughout the whole time, my schedule and my abilities were greatly challenged. I'm self-employed. I consult, coach executives and before cancer, I was traveling and speaking around the country. Most of this stopped. I retained a few coaching clients that I could work with by phone. As I started to approach that two-year mark, I noticed that my work was picking up, that my spirits were picking up, that my energy was indeed picking up. My hair had grown back in and I was indeed feeling like a full human being again.
Most importantly, I noticed some changes in my attitudes, habits. I was much more appreciative. As a pretty independent woman, it was (BC: before cancer) difficult to ask for help. Now, I'd realized how much people loved to be of assistance. I could easily ask and receive what others offered. I also noticed that I didn't let the small stuff bother me. Instead, I had more patience. I became more and more public about having gone through cancer and being a resource for others. People who's loved ones were going through it, came to me for advice. I began to write about it.
So, now, here it is, February of 2015. My five-year, cancer-free mark was September 22, 2014, so I am nearly 5.5 years clean, but 3.5 years "re-energized" and "re-engaged" in my life.
I tell myself, "Ann, there is life after cancer!" And to you, I say, grab on to every precious moment -- the good, the bad, the ugly and embrace the lessons and opportunities they bring you.
Note: In a previous blog post, I wrote about Kelly Knap. I regret to acknowledge that Kelly passed away a few weeks ago. Her company was so dedicated to her that they set up a website to honor her and to raise money solely for cancer research and cures. It can be found here.
Do you have a story about cancer and emotional wellness you'd like to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.