People have mentioned I have been awfully quiet lately. I suppose that’s because sometimes I just don’t know what to say. I got those amazing clear scans – cancer free! – and then the chorus of comments began:
“Aren’t you excited, you’re done!”
“You beat it!”
“Aren’t you glad it’s over?”
“Now you can get back to normal!”
I suppose I need to get some thoughts off my chest (perhaps a poor choice of words considering the whole no boobs thing)…
Even if a person is blessed enough to get to the point where I have, to get the report of clear scans, it’s still not over. Fact is, it’s never really over. Once you get the Big C, you always have to deal with it in some form.
For me, I have Inflammatory Breast Cancer coupled with BRCA2+, a genetic mutation that makes me predisposed for certain types of cancer (breast, ovarian, cervical, pancreas, colon, to name a few). Basically, I got the double whammy when it comes to the disease.
So, I got the clear scans. Great news! A true blessing. But, there is no such thing as “back to normal.” Folks, THIS is my normal.
Since my report, I average 3 doctor’s appointments a week.
I have gotten injections in my stomach to knock me back into menopause and keep me there. I have also gotten an infusion in my port that fights bone cancer, something that I am on the list for thanks to my being BRCA2+. The infusion basically gave me the flu (101 fever, chills and aches) for three days. I have to regularly get my port flushed with saline so it doesn’t get clogged up. I take 8 pills of chemotherapy everyday still and will through October. I also take another pill for cancer prevention. I have to go to the dentist every 4 months because my teeth could start falling out of my head thanks to all the drugs. I have to get a colonoscopy 7 years before I am due for one. The minute I stop the chemo pills, I have to get a hysterectomy, again because I am susceptible for ovarian and cervical cancer. Let’s see … I also get an MRI and PET scan every 3 months, to make sure it hasn’t come back. Oh, and I have Lymphedema (LE) in my right arm because I don’t have the lymph nodes there anymore. So, my arm is swollen and painful and I am supposed to go to therapy 5 days a week and wear a crazy torture cast thing (I tried it and made it 50 hours before cutting it off and will try again when it’s cooler).
Am I listing all this for pity? No.
Am I complaining? Nope.
Am I annoyed with all the comments I get? Not really.
What I am trying to do is tell all of you, my friends and family and coworkers and neighbors, that once you get cancer, it doesn’t just end. Once you get cancer, it is your new normal. For life.
It isn’t a race that is over once you hit the finish line. It’s not like a cold that takes a couple of days and then it’s just gone. It isn’t a test that you can turn in, pass or fail, and then not think of it again. Cancer stays with you.
Either you are constantly doing treatments and dealing with side effects, as I am. Or perhaps it’s just the fact that you are always looking over your shoulder, wondering if it’s back. When you get a cough, you question if its lung cancer. A flipping hangnail could be finger cancer. Everything is related to cancer. And it never really ends.
Do I get annoyed? Sure. Not with the questions and comments from friends, but from the constant appointments and medications and treatments. It owns me right now. It has since I was diagnosed. But, it will get easier and I will have less and less calendar fillers. I hear that the fear lessons as time goes on as well. But, in some ways, I hope the fear stays.
The fear of cancer is what keeps me so grateful. Even when I wake up feeling lousy, I am thrilled to be alive to feel lousy. A thunderstorm can ruin plans for some people, but for me, I am thrilled to see the rain. I have an appreciation for life that I never had and that many people will never fully understand. I thought sitting by my dad’s side as he fought this same disease that I got it. I was so close to cancer that I thought I understood it. I had no idea.
So in many ways, I feel like the lucky one. I face lots of needles and lots of waiting rooms and have weird short hair and have gained a lot of weight (who GAINS weight when they get cancer?), but I have an appreciation that only the chosen C people (and others who have faced mortality right in the eye) truly get. To some, it feels like a curse. But to me, we are the lucky ones.
So, yes. I beat it. But, am I done? Far from it. But from where I am sitting, that’s just fine.
Testing positive for BRCA2 in July, 2016, Jen Frazier was shocked with her 3c Inflammatory Breast Cancer diagnosis in September of the same year, before she could take preventative measures. She has been fighting since then, making it a goal to make friends in every doctor’s office she visits and to educate others about IBC. She spent a decade as a travel writer for Southern Living Magazine and now freelance writes for Southern Living, Texas Monthly, HGTV and others, when she isn’t sitting in doctors’ waiting rooms or chauffeuring her 11-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son around her hometown of Dallas, Texas.