“A few years from now, this will all feel like a bad, surreal dream,” my oncologist told me at diagnosis, all whimsical bowties and seriousness.
August 12 came and went. There was no ceremony. In fact, I made it to the end of August before it occurred to me that I was on the other side of 3 years. And I wonder, was it just a bad dream? Is this really something that happened to me?
Reminders are still stark. The port still juts out of my chest; a safety blanket in case of relapse. My body is riddled with scars from surgery and inability to heal following chemo. My lungs are my Achilles heel with the grip of bleomycin toxicity reminding me with every breath to never take respiration for granted.
But the fear is nowhere near its past frenzied height. Coughs are just a cough. I reach for a bottle of lotion rather than an emergency call to my oncologist when I develop itches. Back pain can be blamed on my rutted mattress and a lack of core strength. Everything is not cancer.
Yes, Virginia, there are a return to normal. A “new normal,” yes, but normal all the same.
Not even a year ago, this development seemed impossible. Whole entire days pass without thinking about illness. It was not all too long ago that I could not go an hour without feeling at least one 5 second panic attack.
One of the most common questions I am asked by other survivors is how long until cancer does not dominate your thoughts, dreams, and conversations? When do you stop fearing the quiet moments where cancer can take hold once again? There is no one answer. For me, it happened sometime between my year 2 cancerversary and flying to Israel for an early year 3 gift to myself.
It still sometimes hits me, so overwhelming that I feel like I am being smothered with wet blankets. A friend passes away. Whenever anyone suggest removing my port. A smell. A swollen lymph node (they do that, don’t you know). But they are more infrequent. My days are rarely interrupted beyond the point of redirection.
Whether you have just been diagnosed, are in the middle of treatment, struggling with PTSD following treatment, or the caregiver or supporter of someone who is, know that it gets better. Like all things worth achieving, it takes work and is a process. The intervening years are not easy. The difficulty of that “in between” time is part of why I have not kept this blog up as much as I would like after ending treatment. But I promise, you will see the sunlight again.