December 2nd marks the one year anniversary of my tissue expander-implant exchange surgery. This means it’s also been exactly eighteen months to the day since my bilateral mastectomy. Which in turn means it’s been a little more than eighteen months since I heard the words, you have cancer.
One reminder often seems to lead to another. There is always a trail of sorts taking me back to previous stops along the way on this cancer gig.
Then, on top of my own personal trail of cancer dates/ anniversaries/reminders, there is also my mother’s trail.
No wonder it’s so hard to forget about cancer for long. It’s down-right impossible. There are simply too many reminders.
It’s like cancer has penciled itself in over and over again, taking up way too many dates and times in my planner for the past eight years.
Eighteen months have passed since my diagnosis, but it cancer still has a way of continuing to intrude even when I’m supposed to be done.
And I’m supposed to be done.
I’m supposed to have moved on. I’m supposed to have found and embraced my new normal. I’m supposed to have taken my life back.
On top of all that moving on and taking back, sometimes it seems I am also now expected to be a better person because I had cancer. It’s almost like I’m supposed to be a “new and improved version” of my former self.
Maybe I should be, but I know I’m not.
And the truth, at least for me, is that you are never done with cancer. Not completely. There are too many reminders that don’t allow you to forget, at least not for very long.
Along with all those dates “jumping out at me” in nearly every month it seems, there are all the physical reminders like continuing fatigue, new physical limitations, reconstructed body parts, lymphedema worries, new or lingering aches/pains, chemo-brain, chemo-induced neuropathy, sleep issues and little white pills to take every day to name a few.
And then there are all those ongoing follow-up doctor appointments.
But more than the physical changes, it’s the changes cancer makes to one’s mind-set that leave a profound lasting effect.
Cancer changes the psyche; it just does.
People who have not been personally affected by cancer sometimes have difficulty understanding this.
I hesitate to make such a statement because it insinuates an “I know something you don’t know” mentality. That’s not my intent at all.
I’m just trying to share two basic cancer truths. Well, they’re my truths anyway. The truth about how cancer changes you. For good. And not necessarily in any good sort of way. The other truth is that it’s never really over. Ever.
One evening during this past Thanksgiving weekend, I watched the third installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy with son #2. At the conclusion of the movie, Frodo returns home to the Shire after destroying the ring. He’s feeling fidgety and unsettled upon his return and says, “Sometimes no matter how hard you try to pick up the pieces and return to your old life, it’s just not possible to go back. Sometimes the changes run too deep. You can’t go back.”
It’s funny, I’ve seen that movie numerous times, and I never “heard” that statement before.
Now it’s what I remember most.
After a cancer diagnosis, you can’t go back.