Learning how to survive

Cancer is a weird, life-changing event. But what I’m realizing is that it’s even weirder to survive it.

When my husband first got the diagnosis and all throughout his chemo, I fully expected that I would become a widow. A big part of that is because the first oncologist had his status as stage IV. The stage IV status never made sense because stage IV means the cancer has spread to other organs, which my husband’s had not.

A cancer diagnosis inevitably makes you think about death. There are very few diagnoses that are scarier. When it hits your house, you’re in shock. My husband started thinking about his own death and trying to make peace with it. I tried to prepare myself for a future without him.

So now that he’s cancer-free, it kind of leaves me wondering how to survive. Cancer changes you emotionally and in my husband’s case, also physically. He went from assuming he would die and never be able to get another job to realizing he may have more time. Having more time means he can think about the future and try to make plans for it. It means that I can do the same.

Still, his new oncologist (who is much better) tentatively staged him at IIIC, which has better odds but is still pretty damn serious. He also said that recurrence is likely, and the things I’ve read say the same.

Knowing that recurrence is likely but not knowing when is like getting a stay of execution. You haven’t escaped death, just postponed it (more so than for everyone else, who live largely unaware of the fact that they could die at any time.)

I feel like I’m holding my breath now, wondering if and when it will reappear. I understand very well the term “scanxiety” that is so often used in the cancer community. Will his next scan show that the disease has already started to return? For how long will he get to be off chemo?

As an aside, I often feel like I want more of a social life, more of a community. But the cancer community is not really what I had in mind. Perhaps I should be more specific in what I ask the universe to provide for me.

Cancer reminds you that death is coming. It’s coming for all of us but it comes sooner for people with cancer. It’s like an ominous shadow in the background that you try your best to ignore. Your definition of “normal” definitely changes.

What no one teaches you is how to find a new normal once you’ve been declared free of the disease. I’m both incredibly grateful that he reached this state but also nervous that it won’t last forever.

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