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You Can’t Go Back

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.

Really?

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.

It’s true.

After a cancer diagnosis, you can’t go back.

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Post-Cancer Diagnosis, You Can't Go Back

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The Big C and Me

Friday 9th of December 2011

I have been in "reminder" mode all week. Thanks for writing this. Game changer. 'nuf said! ;-)

Nancy

Friday 9th of December 2011

Renn, I know you have, I read your post and I will comment soon. Thinking of you. Thanks for commenting.

Philippa (Feisty Blue Gecko)

Wednesday 7th of December 2011

A great post Nancy, and one which resonates strongly with me too. This is so true, we move forward but we can never return to that place we were or that person we were before hearing the life changing words. Thank you :)

Nancy

Wednesday 7th of December 2011

Philippa, I remember you said in one of your posts you are a "date remembering" sort of gal too. It's hard to forget when there are so many reminders. You're right, we do move forward, but we never return to that place or that person we were before. Thanks for your comments.

Being Sarah

Tuesday 6th of December 2011

Nancy - I am approaching my five year mark from diagnosis (early in 2012). And there are still many reminders for me too. Sometimes I think back to D-day, diagnosis day, and I remember how serious everyone was, I know that sounds obvious really, but in a way your medical team know, in that moment, how much this day changes your life - forever. And in a way, you don't, at least I didn't realise it at the time. There's that feeling that you will 'return' or 'go back'... and over time you realise you won't. You've really captured exactly how that feels. Thanks, Sarah

Nancy

Tuesday 6th of December 2011

Being Sarah, You make an interesting observation here about your D-day. I don't believe I was thinking about the future at all back then on my D-day. I was so in the moment, just trying to cope with the time and decisions at hand. I guess having experienced bc with my mom, I knew life would never be the same, there would be no "going back." Thanks so much for commenting.

Mary

Sunday 4th of December 2011

Nancy, your post brings up all kinds of emotions within me. Just like the whole "hair" affair, I want acknowledgement that I have experienced something horrible and yet I want to be treated "normally". The same thing with the post cancer treatment time period: I want to have recognition that "it ain't over yet, it could come back any time" and yet I don't want to be typecast as a "cancer survivor". I'm so difficult, right?! There's something so cavalier when (well meaning) acquaintences want to say, "they got it all, right? You're done with treatment. Etc" It makes them feel better 'cause they want us to feel better. But the sad fact of the matter is, we don't know that's the case. And I certainly don't relish in being morbid, but bear in mind: I thought I was the picture of health 18 months ago. A calcification on my mammogram said otherwise. So for me, it's always felt profilactic that I had to go through mastectomy/chemo/radiation/reconstruction 'cause I never saw or felt a lump. So naturally, I feel skittish about my future. Just can't be trusted. I certainly don't walk around all day feeling dismal but every now and then, I I do expect the other shoe to fall. At some point. It happened once before.....And how to express this forboding to someone who has't experienced this betrayal? I agree, it's something you can understand only once you've gone through it. And so it goes.....mary

Nancy

Monday 5th of December 2011

Mary, Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. It is a fine line to walk. I don't want to go around with a sense of doom and gloom either and I don't, however, like you I am not blind to the possibility of "the other shoe dropping." That is our new reality isn't it? It just is.

TC

Saturday 3rd of December 2011

Cancer changes the psyche. It just does. What more is there to say? All the rest is just commentary.

Nancy

Monday 5th of December 2011

TC, Those two statements do pretty much sum things up don't they? Thanks for "cutting to the chase" with your comment.