Not breast cancer. Not before Christ. BC for “before cancer.”
Google Photos and Facebook are showing me memories. I love looking back and remembering old times, but I’m now at the point where my memories make me say, “That’s before cancer got me” and, “Oh, wow, I really looked more sick than I thought I did.” The memories show the “before cancer” me and the “cancer” me.
I’m currently living in AC – after cancer. I think, when does “cancer” time actually end and “after cancer” time begin?
Is there a clear distinction? The end of treatment, sure. A surgery completed, yes. Radiation finished, ok.
Cancer and its impact doesn’t really end. At least it hasn’t for me. I still take a daily pill that makes my joints hurt. I still have to check in with the breast surgeon and my oncologist every 6 months. I look in the mirror daily and am reminded I had cancer. My arms and shoulders don’t have full range of motion. There are scars on my torso.
Sure, things aren’t as intense as “cancer” time, but things are not back to normal. There isn’t a return to normal. There is just different.
There is also remaining worry, questioning, wondering. Sometimes it’s just a flash of an idea. A small annoyance. Other times, it’s a bigger idea that spirals into more worry: How can I be sure there is no cancer lurking in another lymph node? How certain are we that radiation got all the cancer? I didn’t have a final scan to prove that I’m clear, so am I clear? If I’m eating sugar, is that feeding dormant cancer cells? Why can’t the doctors tell me specific things to do to prevent further issues? Did I make all the right decisions last year?
After so many tests and biopsies and scans during the course of a year, it feels anticlimactic to not walk out with a “Certificate of Cancer-free-ness.” I know this is not a thing. I know there can really be no guarantee that I’m “cancer free” but it really feels like there should be.
It’s so hard to explain… the over-but-not-gone feeling. I’m not the same. I think I’m healthy, but am I?
There’s also this weird feeling of not knowing how to talk about the cancer experience. When I was in treatment it was obvious: bald head, no eyebrows, pale skin. It was easy to talk about being in treatment.
Now that I’m on the other side, I find myself in situations when I could drop the, “when I had cancer…” line in a conversation but I find myself second-guessing it. Does it come across as putting unnecessary attention on myself? Does it make people uncomfortable? At what point do I not need to identify myself as someone who went through cancer?
I realize there’s no right or wrong way to proceed. It’s all a confusing mess. There is the new “normal.”
With time, I hope the AC period feels just like… life. Different. But now. I hope I learn to be here now.