Now What?

7-Year Cancer Survivor – Now What?

Are you a different person now than before you had cancer? Cancer changes lives not only for survivors but also for co-survivors, family and friends.  Cancer can bring clarity to a situation that was once gray and confusing,  but can also leave loved ones wondering what happened to the person they once knew.

This month we feature a survivor who has been transformed by her cancer experience, and along the way found the courage to make tough decisions that were life altering.

-Polly

It all began on 6/14/2005 – that’s my date.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is life changing enough, but I think the most remarkable lessons come after the fact (for those of us fortunate enough to survive).  It’s difficult to comprehend what ‘the lessons’ are while you’re still in active treatment because that’s all-consuming.   And for a few years after, the apprehension of surviving and “what now?” takes up a lot of time and energy.  But, as we gradually move on with our lives, and the distance between follow-up appointments lengthens, there are plenty of opportunities to reflect on life before and after cancer.   And, oddly – quite frankly-  I prefer my life now.

Why?

I’m MUCH more patient and tend to ‘go with the flow’.  In my life before cancer I’d make things happen; but now I believe more and more that things happen when the time is right, and if they don’t happen, I’m not going to worry.  Coming from someone who used to plan and think 1-2 years in advance, that’s quite a transformation which, for those who’ve known me the longest (ie: my family), is hard to digest.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned (which my family will never come to terms with) is I’m the one who’s changed.  My family’s attitude towards me won’t change because they only see and remember the old pre-cancer me.  I can’t change their perception because what’s happened over the last 7 years has been my own personal journey – nobody else’s.  It’s a strange adjustment to make, and I’m still coming to grips with it.

At the time of my diagnosis, I was transferring from community college to a 4-year degree program and just wanted the last two years to be over with so that I could graduate and move on with my life.  Underneath all of the chaos, though, were doubts about my marriage.  Was it based on friendship, companionship, or really life-long love, and could I see us truly growing old together?  What cancer taught me is that you have to be realistic enough to know when you’re not happy, and brave enough to change the situation if you’re not happy in it.  During six months of counseling, the word that stuck with me, and helped me leave an ‘empty’ marriage, was “bother”.  When it bothered me enough I did something about it.  Coming to the realization that I couldn’t grow old with someone who didn’t know how or when to help me during seven months of chemo, surgery and radiation, broke my heart; but has since freed me of that worry.  Life really is too short to waste time worrying about things we can’t change.  We must change the things we can, move on, and not feel guilty for finding our own happiness.

So, what now?  After two layoffs in less than two years,  I refuse to expend energy on worrying about what’s going to happen next week, let alone six months (or more) from now.  That attitude is a little laid-back when, in theory, retirement should factor in to my life in 14 or so years; but why should I, or how can I, worry that far ahead when who knows if I’ll be here then?  That’s really how I feel about life, which is pretty immature coming from a 51 year old “kid” (we all may have to age, but I refuse to grow up).

However, given what’s happened over the last seven years, I’m not investing energy in worrying too much about the future; I’m BUSY LIVING NOW and encourage you to do the same, regardless of whether or not you’ve done battle with cancer (as a patient, or co-survivor).

Plans for the future?  No idea!  I’m busy going with the flow and can’t think too far ahead.

LiveSTRONG!

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