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At church this morning I sat with a friend who’s also a breast cancer survivor. Her oncologist is “setting her free,” taking her off of her post chemotherapy drug, Femara. As he explained to her, more than likely, the Femara has already done all it will ever do to prevent recurrence. In addition, she will only need to see him once a year. If you haven’t had cancer, that may sound like good news, but if you’ve battled the big “C,” it’s a little scary to think you’re walking the survivorship tightrope all on your own. I know how my friend feels.
Not long ago I finished my five-year course of Arimidex. If my oncologist had let me, I would’ve taken Arimidex forever, achy joints and all. It made me feel like I had a superpower helping me. Of course I know God is the only superpower, and the weapons available to me are prayer, diet, exercise and avoiding stress, although I now seem to have accrued a lifetime supply of stress.<PREVIEWEND>
Whether you’re six months out and just finishing chemotherapy, or like my friend, six years out and finishing adjunct treatment to lessen risk of recurrence, you are gripping a double-edged sword. On one side, you're one step further away from your cancer, but on the ‘oh my stars this is really the sharp side' of the sword, you no longer have any of the "big guns" working for you like chemo, radiation or aromatase inhibitors. You’re all on your own.
Being disease-free does not mean being free of your disease. That statement cuts to the heart of what it means to have cancer. Cancer is our own personal terrorist. Even if we live to be 105, we are forever tethered to the mere thought of that one stray cell, waiting to strike again with a vengeance. While cancer is a force to be reckoned with, in many ways, it remains an intangible: Is it really gone, and if so, for how long? That uncertainty doesn't fit neatly into our statistic laden society that wants everything clearly defined with labels that say 98% fat free, 46% voter approval, 95% of households have a toaster, etc. It's no wonder cancer survivors cling to the five-year survival number like it's magic. It’s quantifiable, reassuring and soothes that part of ourselves that needs to hear "everything will be alright." Right now my need to hear I’ll be OK has been replaced by my grief over James’ death, and I’m not sure anything will ever be alright again.
The last six weeks have been an emotional roller coaster. While some days are a little easier than others, I have a hard time thinking about anything other than the fact that James is no longer here. In the last couple of weeks, the wind has rearranged the leaves where he died, revealing more reminders of the frantic life-saving efforts that took place there. Bright and shiny against the dry brown leaves was a small, silver alcohol swab package that had been torn open, along with the plastic protective cap from a syringe. With the exception of I’m 100% convinced James is with God, there are no statistics that can make me feel better. Nothing can take me far enough away from the fact that he’s not here, and like my friend who’s finished her cancer treatments, I’m all on my own, again.
Next Sunday I will tell my friend at church to take good care of herself, remain watchful and that “everything will be alright.” I imagine she will hug me and tell me the same thing, and I want you, regardless of your circumstances, to imagine you’re part of our hug and that everything will be alright for you as well. As Amy’s mom would say, “God, please don’t let go of our hand.”
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