Facing the Fear of Cancer Recurrence Like a Boss
I'm a mom, a writer and a soon to be 3-time cancer survivor.
I know how scary cancer is while you're waiting for the diagnosis, when you get the diagnosis, when you're going through treatment AND when you’re surviving in remission.
When we’re in remission many of us have a hard time moving on. We’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop. We can have paralyzing scanxiety at our oncologists' check-in (whether we're in the 3 month or 5-year check-up). I hear many of us play out a worst case scenario for every cold, muscle ache, sniffle, stomach ache and normal day-to-day aliments. There’s always a little voice in our heads saying, "WHAT IF the cancer comes by?" We live in fear of recurrence.
I lived in that fear of recurrence for two blessed but shadowed years. The last two years were miracle years by modern medicine standards. In February 2016, I was given a 15-month prognosis for recurrent cervical cancer. But I refused to accept this expiration date.
When my son asked one night after a bedtime kiss in his tinder 8-year-old voice, “Mommy, are you going to die?,” I promised him I would do everything I could to live. And I did: we moved houses; I radically changed my diet; I took a million supplements; I made an effort to be happy every day — if only for a few minutes; I got a therapist to release all the emotions I had buried; I met with every woo-woo healer someone suggested — astrologers, mediums, psychics, energy healers; I rubbed essential oils all over my body; learned to meditate; detoxed with baths, body brushes, saunas.
As a lifelong overachiever, I totally typed-A'd my healing. I did things I could control.
As a cancer patient/survivor so much is out of our control. We don’t know what the scans will say or if the treatment is working. We never know if the conventional treatment is making us sicker than the disease. And then there's the big thing out of our control - whether we live or die.
Through my healing journey, I've come to understand if I die it is because the universe has a bigger plan for me. I can only control what I can control.
I made every change that my intuition told me was right to heal, but in the end God/the universe is in charge.
I came head to head with my worst fears last month. I knew something was off with my body as I walked into the hospital in December 2018. Over the last two years, I've learned how to read my body much better. I knew my digestive system was funky. My sleep was disrupted. I was exhausted. All my classic signs my body is falling out of alignment. On top of regular scanxiety, I was terrified what the doctors would say.
With big puppy eyes of grief and compassion, the doctors said "the cancer was progressing". They called it a "recurrence." But just like my last two diagnoses, I refuse to be a statistic. I’m calling it a "flare-up." That said, suddenly my worst fear had happened. The cancer WAS back. But for the love of self-healing, PLEASE do not pity me or give me your puppy, compassion eyes. They are not necessary. Enough with fear. Yours and mine. Something weird happened after I heard the news — I felt liberated.
Having to face my worst fear of recurrence liberated me from fearing it and I realized it’s not actually that scary.
Cancer is a chronic disease that we must manage like people with MS, lupus, or CPD. Flare-ups happen. At first I blamed myself for not doing the things I could control: did eating GF bread and flour give my tumors fuel? Was the stress too much this fall?
Then my sweet little voice said, “maybe it’s just something out of your control”. For instance, doctors are just beginning to understand the backlash of the chemotherapy drugs that poisoned my body for two years.
Then as I dug deeper into the emotions, I realized how much fear I’ve given the fear of recurrence over the last two years. How it’s always been dwelling in the shadows even as I rejoiced in my second chance at life.
So once again, I'm taking control of what I can control.
I’m reminding me and you that the body is a work of art that can heal itself.
I'm working with a new amazing naturopath and nutritionist to make some adjustments to my diet and lifestyle with the latest research. I've started a daily HIIT and/or rebounding workout because there's more conclusive research that it's highly effective as a cancer treatment. And I'm going into radical self-care mode to do eleven healing things a day like baths, walks, meditation, reading, napping, etc.
Recurrence happens. Period. If you or someone you love is living with cancer, you are living with a chronic disease. But as Anne Fonfe, cancer advocate and founder of the Annie Appleseed Project says, "living with cancer doesn't mean you're dying of cancer." Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got some more living to do.