It’s almost 3AM on the night before another treatment, and the anticipation and anxiety of yet another day sitting in the infusion lounge is keeping me awake.
Luckily the wonderful Randall Munroe, creator of XKCD, put something I have been thinking about a lot (and mostly in how to explain how I feel to everyone) in a handy dandy webcomic.
While October 7th (Yom Kippur) is my official last treatment (if I don’t end early at the end of this month), this does not end for me. Technically if I make it to 5 years without a relapse, I am considered cured. But I will never, really, feel cured. A twinge others might shrug off as sleeping the wrong way will send me into a panic. Every backache is a tumor growing on my spine again. Every itch is a sign that the cancer is back. When you hear hoofbeats, you think horses, not zebras.
But I already am a zebra. Let’s face it, Hodgkin’s is a pretty rare cancer. 8000 people a year are diagnosed with it in the US. It’s symptoms, and therefore the signs of a relapse, are so vague that anything from a cold to an allergic reaction to a pulled muscle can seem like the end of the world.
That’s not to say the end of treatment doesn’t warrant a celebration. I will be able to eat sushi and rare steak again! This is a major thing. I plan on gorging myself.
But I’m a Type A person. A worrier. A born Jewish mother. This life with a very real concern weighing on my back is something I am going to need to learn to cope with.
I’m not ashamed to say that I have sought out a therapist who specializes in young adults not only going through major life transitions from childhood to adulthood, but also young adults facing serious health crises. I have only met her once, but I think this will be a healthy step in building a foundation for anxiety management for something I will have to cope with for the rest of my life.
I wish more people (and health insurance companies!) would shrug off the antiquated taboo about therapy and mental health care, because we might function a little better as a society if people worked on their coping skills.
Mental wellbeing is such an important part of recovery from the arsenal of toxins coursing through my body. I will be quite honest- I am not prepared for what my life will be like after treatment. Treatment means that I’m always actively doing something to FIGHT. Chemo every other week. 35 pills a day. My head totally in the game. What happens when my oncologist says, “See you in 3 months?”
So I do what anyone else would do in this situation. Put one foot in front of the other, keep building my support network, and try to keep calm and carry on.
I have met many fantastic people in varying years out of treatment (and, in many cases, relapses) who assure me it gets better. No one has ever said it would be easy, but that one day, you realize you have spent a whole day without thinking about cancer. That’s progress. There’s a marble of worry that you carry. Most days you carry it around in your hand and its just a small reminder, Some days it will be as little as a pebble and you can slip it into your coat pocket and forget about it. Other days, it’s as big as a bowling ball and impossible to forget. But you push through it.
And who am I kidding? There’s medication to help with that too.
Here’s to hoping my highway off ramp is 65 years down the road.