Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Startled and Dismayed

A good friend's mother is awaiting pathology results to learn whether a small pancreatic tumor is benign or cancerous, and if cancerous, what type of cancer. It is the worst of times, kept waiting, unable to research and pursue options without a definitive diagnosis, unable to do anything. The family has been there before. The mom was thought successfully treated for breast cancer a few years ago.

When you receive a cancer diagnosis, the world tilts. You may have had few or negligible warning symptoms. I knew at the beginning of my doctor's appointment a year and a half ago that he was going to tell me I had colon cancer, but had no clue five minutes earlier. How can something you can't see, you can't feel or touch have such an impact? Why are your cells such traitors? Do you see yourself, do others see you, as the walking dead? Will you be missed? You immediately have a new normal. Those close to you have a new normal, too.

Life goes on, maybe or maybe not. With modern medicine there are more and more maybes. Once you have had cancer, particulary as an adult, though, there is lingering skepticism that life will in fact go on. It will certainly be different. There are scars and side effects. My colon will forever more be cranky. The blood draws, MRIs and tests continue ad infinitum. I have to have a colonoscopy every stinking year. I have been told I am more likely to have other forms of cancer in my future. Constant vigilance!

October was a month deluged with cancer awareness activities, encouraging research, early detection and treatment and celebrating the survivors. The term survivor is odd to me. I consider myself a veteran instead. Ultimately, none of us will survive.

Battling cancer is never ending. There are conflicting reports on what you should or should not eat. Is coffee good or bad? Does fiber matter? More important, does chocolate matter? Will low dosage aspirin reduce risk? Vitamins? Exercise? Is it all in your head, a bad attitude? Will a break through be discovered in time? Did you do something wrong? Do you have to have a miracle? How do you fight your own body?

I completed my first campaign aside my fifteen year old daugher. After my second war last year I now wait in reserve to be called up again. I prepare alternative battle plans - an army of one against an invisible enemy, appreciating the respite between skirmishes.

If you know someone who has had cancer or is close to someone with cancer, don't look at a survivor. See the warrior instead. Stand confidently with your friend, or daughter or mother. Bring in the support troups. Provide joyful furloughs. Celebrate the victories. Yes, life does go on.

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