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Five Years Post Diagnosis, What Does It Mean?

Five years post diagnosis, what does it mean?

I have passed the long-awaited for, highly anticipated five-year mark. It feels a little bit like when I completed primary cancer treatment. It sort of feels like, now what?

I’ve been struggling a little bit as to what I should write about this particular juncture. I guess I’ve been putting a little pressure on myself to come up with something profound to share with you, Dear Readers. I mean, this is supposed to be a big deal. And it is. But then again, it isn’t. It’s just another passage of time. But yet it’s more.

I was feeling that by this point, after five years, surely I should have something at least somewhat enlightening to share. There should be a special five-year-gem-like bit of wisdom to pass along shouldn’t there?

After all, after cancer you’re supposed to be a better, or at least a more enlightened person all the way around aren’t you?

After five years then, I should be pretty darn enlightened, right?

Guess not.

Turns out, I have nothing. Well, nothing much anyway.

In all honesty, the time marker that was of most significance to me, psychologically speaking, was when I reached 3.75 years beyond my diagnosis date. You see that’s how much time passed after my mother’s cancer diagnosis before her cancer recurred.

In my mind, that was the marker I wanted to race right past. And I did. I try hard to not compare my cancer to my mother’s cancer and most of the time I’m successful. I know our situations and our bodies are/were entirely different, but cancer does play those mind games.

So what does reaching the five year mark really mean?

I have no idea.

It’s good of course. No, it’s fantastic. I’m still here. I’m still NED (no evidence of disease). And I am grateful beyond words.

I also know there are no guarantees, not for any of us. There never were.

I ask my oncologist about recurrence rates for someone like me at most visits and each time I do, he patiently gets out his little pad of paper and his pen and proceeds to draw the same diagram he always draws to illustrate his point, that point being that the greatest risk for recurrence for me was in the first two to three years and then it leveled off a bit and then by year five it levels off more. Maybe you’ve seen the same diagram. After five years that ominous line representing recurrence flattens out quite a bit. Again, this is very good.

However that dang line of recurrence never disappears from the diagram. Not ever. It keeps hovering right on over to the edge of that piece of paper.

Cancer does the same; it will hover over me for the rest of my life.

This is a daunting fact, but surprisingly, it’s not one I think about very often. I just don’t worry much about what might or could happen recurrence-wise. In fact, it struck me one day when reading someone else’s blog post that I haven’t yet blogged about fear of recurrence. I need to write that post sometime.

But for today, I guess I don’t have much more to say.

Five years post-diagnosis feels pretty darn great.

And I am grateful.

Maybe both of these statements are pretty profound after all.

How long has it been since your, or your loved one’s, diagnosis?

How do you feel about milestone dates?

If applicable, do you worry much about recurrence?

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five year cancerversary

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Kelsey

Monday 11th of May 2015

Hi, I am wondering what exactly it was that got you through five whole years. Was it the support from friends and family or something else..? Do you have any advice for dealing with a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer? Also, what do you feel has changed most within you after 5 whole years since the diagnosis?

Nancy

Monday 11th of May 2015

Kelsey, Well, blogging has played a huge part in helping me get through the last five years. And of course, the support of my family and friends has been the most important. I always encourage the newly diagnosed to journal because writing is a fantastic outlet. I also encourage them to find support somewhere, online or in person. Doing so is vital. As to your last question, everything has changed... but then again, it hasn't. Hard to describe. Thank you for reading and posing some questions.

Chantel

Friday 8th of May 2015

Congratulations!

Our Mom was recently told if she completes treatment she has to take Tamoxifen for 10 years they no longer prescribe it for 5 years anymore. This 5 year mark doesn't make her feel better. She just wants to live as long as God allows and prayerfully she will be here to love and play with her great-grandchildren.

Julie Goodale

Thursday 7th of May 2015

Congrats on the 5, Nancy. They're all good - no, they're all great. But I didn't celebrate any of the milestones until I hit 10. That one seemed worthy of attention. I think it's hard for any of us who really pay attention to the details to get too excited about 5 years. We know that our risk of recurrence goes down, but we also know it never goes away. Hard to celebrate too much for something that's never done. But even so, congrats, well done, enjoy!

Julie

Nancy

Friday 8th of May 2015

Julie, It's so good to hear from you! Every year we're still here is very, very good indeed. It's interesting that you didn't 'celebrate' until number ten. That seems like a long way off for me yet. Glad you are there though, yay for you! Thank you for reading and thank you for the good wishes.

Beth L. Gainer

Thursday 7th of May 2015

Hi Nancy,

Your statements are indeed profound. I know that so many people expect to have that nugget of wisdom at the 5-year-mark. For me, it's been 14 years since I heard those words, and from my perspective, each year forward gets harder. It seems as time goes on, the less I understand about life, and maybe that's the way it should be.

My perspectives on cancer and survival have evolved over the years. I know that after treatment was over, I felt I had conquered the disease. Then the fear and reality sunk in. At my 5-year mark, my friend Faun died, a reminder that things might not go my way. I also got a scare a few months later that led to my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.

Then my PTSD got worse. But, like you, I am grateful to be alive.

Congratulations, Nancy, on hitting the 5-year mark. It is significant, I believe. May NED be with you forever. xoxo

Nancy

Thursday 7th of May 2015

Beth, I think perspectives on everything evolve as we grow older. It makes me sad to think that each year forward for you gets harder, but then again, it makes sense too. I didn't realize that your dear friend Faun died at your five-year mark. Bottom line is we are grateful to be alive and each year, each day is significant. Thank you for sharing and for the congrats too.

alli

Tuesday 5th of May 2015

I am now in my 7th year, the first few were the most terrifying after surgery chemo etc. To be honest I had no idea what I was the most frightened of, The idea of Cancer, fearful it would come back or just the general frar of cancer, it is daunting being diagnosed.. The closer I came to my 5 year mark the less I seemed to care that unrelenting fear was disappearing,I made the decision not to take Tamoxifen or any other drug, I was quite OK with that decision..I had already experienced Side Effects from using the drugs at the start.. so I pass....Even against all the odds presented to me by my Oncologist that i'd be lucky to make it to 4 years if I refused well here we are folks we are heading towards "Lucky number *7* so far so good. I'm still scared about cancer but not the unknown fear I had earlier experienced

Love All.....x

Nancy

Wednesday 6th of May 2015

Alli, I am so glad you are still here and proved your oncologist wrong too! It's interesting that you are less fearful now, which is of course, a good thing. Thank you for commenting. It was wonderful to hear from you.