You're a survivor from a cancer, maybe two, even three time cancer survivor. That's great! Congratulations! You have passed those first few years of excessive worry, along with continued, continuous heavy monitoring, and oh, those pesky side effects from treatment. You've faced those recurrence fears, the intense scanxiety and you begun to find your new normal. You had so many questions and concerns that led to increased anxiety, stress and possibly depression. You've accomplished the healing, the starting of the healing, at least; the scars, health and mental from this life changing event.
Those first five years were by far the addition to the most stressful and traumatic time of your life. Those 5 years have drug on for what seemed like forever, while, at the same time, passed by relatively quickly for that time was consumed with so many news for this new life into your new normal and the beginning stages of healing.
Some, during those fresh survivorship years, are heavily involved in other activities as part of their new normal, including being active in participation of health studies, research surveys, and other community outreaches. Many find this new normal also involves life changes that resulted from personal change, such as a job switch, going back to school to earn a degree or certification, possibly even moving into a new location, whether a gain or a loss of financials.
Busy with all of the new normals, consumed with it daily, leading to one day-BOOM! You realize that you are no longer in that early stage. You look back to see that you are entering into long-term survivorship. How did this happen? How could this be? Where did the time go?! Year after year of counting the new anniversary dates as if they were added into others like birthdays....heck, you may have even found yourself celebrating each cancerversary and chemoversary. You have come this far! Amazing!
Upon realizing you have entered into long-term survivorship, there grows an even deeper appreciation for life and that that particular number of years into your survivorship. Do not be fooled; however, because alongside your celebrating come those long-term side effects of cancer and any of its treatments received.
I am almost a 9 year survivor-wow-9 years, A rare placental cancer called choriocarcinoma from a complete twin molar pregnancy is what gave me the name of 'cancer survivor'. My 9 year old daughter is the surviving twin from that molar pregnancy. It dawned on my very recently that I was no longer within those stages following survivorship when I received an email for a cancer research organization asking for cancer survivors to fill out a questionnaire survey. The catch-survivors had to be within 5 years or under to qualify for submission. What?! After years of doing this, that I longer could participate in some of these now and although I was a tad bit bummed to not be able to put my feedback and experience to use for the study, I was thrilled, though, to actually know that I was beyond that timeframe and into a new stage of survivorship!
Pausing and reflecting my own cancer journey, there are times now, many, that realized that I no longer had that continual reminder that I am a cancer survivor. I actually forget and feel like a 'normal' person most of the time, that is, until something comes up, say a simple illness or a pain, or side effect issues, and um, well, labs.
Having entered into the long-term survivorship process gives perks of being somewhat settled into your new normal, things that were felt with a stretch course of time. Having this can lead to a more relaxed life with continued maintenance of such side effects, knowing the dos and don'ts of managing those side effects. This is a more comfortable fact of management that allows more free time to live life outside of those cancer side effects.
As I mentioned prior, the sidekick of this adjusted new normal are long-term side effects lingering, possibly even new ones that pop-up. This new acknowledgement takes you into a new shift of dealings and self- recognitions. There may be long-term side effects that have entered a step further into needing to access and retry that new normal. There may new side effects or health issues from that have to be discovered or dissected to be found. There are even possibilities of another cancer or a secondary cancer that creeps up for particular chemos given.
Labs. Yes, those famously known lab draws. The one thing that I learned is that even after almost 9 years out, scanxiety is still readily there at annual labs. There is a small lingering amount of PTSD from the initial traumatic experience event, even to the least of remembering that very feeing of it to a 'T' which can lead to bringing up PTSD all over, maybe not a strong, but it is still there. There may be a possibility of more self-control to handle it, knock it down with time spanned between your healing and initial dealings of it. It reminded me of training for something, say a dance routine. With your continued practice and time put into it, you gain your experience to better control and deeply feeling that practice.
For me, labs were such firsthand, receiving weekly chemo with every other week being inpatient for 3-4 days for 6.5 months, my blood was always being drawn and send off, waiting for the results in the oncology department to know if we could move forward or go backward. Once the chemo treatments were finished, I was still being sent to the lab for heavy monitoring: weekly to bi-monthly to monthly to every three months, down to every 6 months then annual for a few years. That sift was excessively hard and for another story!
So what do we take away from all of this? Well, long-term survivorship has a fine balance between pros and cons, but for some, more pros than cons. Here is a list:
1. Maintenance of long term side effects
2. Short term side effects have diminished
3. Settled into new normal following cancer diagnosis and treatments
4. Time to heal physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually (especially for reproductive cancers)
5. Gained knowledge and experience leading to a new you, a new life such as a career change
6. Give others hope, even without knowing it
1.New side effects or health issues arise from cancer and/or treatments which lead to finding those new normals
2. Continuation of cancer/cancer treatment related health issues
3. Secondary cancers can arise from treatments
4. Not qualified to volunteer for some various cancer research/surveys
5. Lingering PTSD
Embrace how far you've come. Celebrate how far you've come. You deserve to celebrate you survivorship and declare it to the world to give hope to others that are behind you in their cancer journey. Celebrate YOU! Celebrate LIFE!