Cancer. The bastard disease of humankind that kills without hesitation, without prejudice. It is one of the most dreaded words in the medical world, especially if you are a patient. Cancer will turn a world upside down, backwards, and inside out. And more than likely, cancer will be what kills me in the end. That’s a depressing thought to have I know. It’s one of those things that is just ingrained in my mind, and something that contributes to daily anxiety. Let me break it down for you.
My Cancer Story
It was in the fall of 2012; September 11 to be exact. I was in the emergency room at a local hospital. Having been poked and prodded, run for an ultrasound and through a CT machine, I already knew that I wouldn’t be leaving that day. The ER doctor comes in and delivers the line that would rip my world apart. “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” It was cancer. Testicular cancer that had gone undetected. It spread from my groin to my abdomen, and on up through my chest and lungs. It was bad. Really bad.
In the months that would follow, I would undergo 3 surgeries, and 4 months of chemotherapy. Hospital stays became so common I carried a “just in case” bag with me to the doctor and any trip to the ER I had to make. Blood clots, high fevers, a blood transfusion, all became a part of my life. In February of 2013 I would receive the best news of my life: I had made it. I survived. My cancer was in remission.
Cancer: A Family Disease
I would not be the first one in my family to have to experience cancer, and I wouldn’t be the last. My great-grandfather was diagnosed with throat cancer when I was younger. My grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer when I was 24 and passed away in 2008. My mother was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2015, and my father had a brush with thyroid cancer just last year. This doesn’t include all of the other extended family I know that fought with cancer too.
Call it a series of unfortunate events, but my family has become really good at preparing for and fighting cancer. It has become a part of every day discussion and worry. Cancer has found a way to be the one thing I fear more than clowns, and that is pretty serious. It’s not a fun commonality to have with your family members. It’s better to have the same like in music, or politics.
In The Shadow
If you read up on cancer recurrence, how family history contributes to your chances of getting cancer, and how a personal history automatically raises your chances of getting cancer again, it’s not hard to do the math. Statistically, I am more likely to die from cancer than anything else as far as medical conditions go. This is knowledge I live with and I don’t think there is a day that goes by that some part of that thought enters my mind.
I am almost five years out from treatment now. I go twice a year for checkup scans and it never gets any less stressful. We in the cancer community call it “scanxiety”. It’s a special kind of anxiety that just grips you when it’s time for follow-up scans and appointments. I nervously pace around the house in the days between my scans and my appointment. Every scenario that starts with the phrase “What if” is analyzed and response planned to a needle point.
Ask anyone you know who has survived cancer, and they will likely tell you the same thing. There is a shadow that you live under after cancer. One that seems a little darker than the other shadows of life. The cancer shadow does not fade with the light in life, and it loves to wrap its arms around you when you are the most vulnerable.
Staying Ahead of the Shadow
This is where life really gets interesting. When you consciously make a choice to stay ahead of cancer’s shadow, good things happen. It took me a long time to reach that point. For two years after it was over, I let my experience with cancer define me. I let physical leftovers turn into mental stumbling blocks, and truly wondered sometimes if it would ever get better. The change didn’t happen immediately, but it didn’t start until I made the decision to start it.
The realization that cancer was a part of my past and not my current state was a huge one. I realized that, while I still may deal with the after effects, I can be more than the experience made me. It was at this point in my life that I decided, you know what? I’m going back to college. I set a goal of achieving a degree and finishing out with a stellar GPA. Once I put my mind to it, the rest wrote itself.
I am now a college graduate. I earned my degree while taking care of my kids and the house. I hit my goal of a 3.5 GPA and I even made it out with a few honor society graduation cords. I let the cancer experience be the springboard that sent me forwards, instead of the roadblock that held me back. Everything I have done since starting school, has been done because I decided to let the shadow stay behind me.
That’s life under the shadow of cancer. For some, it’s a dark place that makes you want to hide under every tree, rock, and cave. For others, it becomes the platform on which life slowly starts to get better and things move forward because life has new meaning. I have been in both camps. The shadow of cancer continues to follow me, but it can stay behind me throughout this journey. I have places to go and things to be.
Cross-posted from ThisIsJohnnyT.com