A typical question asked of cancer survivors often sounds like, “are you done yet?” Almost as if I were shopping for a new pair of shoes or someone was hoping to steal my parking space at the grocery store. When asked this question, I think back to the months struggling to save my own life, thechemotherapy, the surgery, and the radiation that melted away my skin.
Yes, those steps of my treatment are over and I am very pleased to have made it out alive with my dignity still in intact. But am I done yet? Am I done rebuilding my life and picking up the pieces that were scattered to the floor by cancer? No, I’m not done yet. I’m not sure if I will ever be done. My marred body reminds me of this fact every day.
The wonder if I will be stricken with cancer again may never leave my mind. Since I don’t really know why cancer happened in the first place, I find myself questioning my everyday decisions. What should I eat? Should I get rid of my microwave? Should I get rid of my cell phone? What about the toxic chemicals all around me? I now live with these constant questions of what might have caused my cancer in the first place.
I’ve had to go through the whole process of letting all of these worries go, which is a difficult task that creeps back up when I least expect it. It is a constant challenge collecting some of those pieces of my life that fell to the floor when I was first diagnosed.
It has taken all of my time and all my energy to rearrange all the fallen pieces. Where do I hang them? Do they belong? So no, I am not done yet. The journey to become a new me is now and forevermore.
Putting the focus on my health
The new me must constantly think about my own well being and health. For me, this has become an excessive focus. It has taken me years of physical therapy to get my right arm back up to full motion. I also dedicated my first year after radiation to cleansing all of my major organs to try and reset my body after countless toxins were injected into my body for cancer treatment.
After radiation treatment, I was diagnosed with edema in my right arm. Despite being finished with clinical cancer treatment, I was still not done with the side effects of cancer. During that phase the edema was treated with
massage and exercise. They also fitted me with compressions garments which I must now wear everyday.
I have chosen not to take estrogen blockers, a popular post cancer supplement. Because of this decision, I need to have my cancer markers checked every three months in order to monitor the amount of cancer cells in my body. So far, the cancer markers have came back normal. But again, this is not a process I will ever be done with.
My breast reconstructions surgery has yet to happen as I am not totally healed from my original breast surgery which still causes my body to be sore and sensitive. At this time in life, it is not a big concern for me to schedule the breast reconstruction surgery. But because of this, I do not feel beautiful looking at my body quite yet. It still makes me cry from time to time. Although, I do find comfort in remembering that life is going to continue with me or without me. So, I’ve decided to jump back into life and carry on.
Rediscovering myself through work, family, and friends has been challenging too. In the beginning, they seemed concerned and would make sure that I was in good spirits. But after a while, my hair got longer and I went back to my full time job. It’s easy for others to look at me and think, “Yes, she is finally done. Good for her!” But again, I am not done.
Thriving instead of just surviving
The subject of cancer went from being the usual conversation topic to more of an afterthought. Unless someone wants to say,“Oh yes, she is a cancer survivor.” Almost as if my sole purpose in life is to be their cancer survivor.
I am still rebuilding my life and collecting all the broken pieces while trying to fit them back together. It has been one of the hardest endeavors I have ever walked through in my life. Sometimes even harder than cancer treatment itself.
I try not to think about being stricken with cancer. I feel I am healthier in my thinking and am currently trying to focus on healing my whole self. September 2015 will mark my three year anniversary of being cancer free. Although the cancer treatment is in the past, I most certainly without a shadow of a doubt am not done yet.
Originally from Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Cindy Black is a Seattle based author and illustrator of children’s books and personal journals. Her published works have been inspired by her diagnosis with stage three breast cancer. Her previous works include Pieces, Open the Door, and Home Run: A Cancer Miracle.