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