Gripe of the Day: "CANCER FREE!!!"

Here is my gripe of the day: I hate when people say "She is cancer-free!" (I've been surfing the 3-day pages too much.)

Let me start out with saying that yes, I was lucky to find my breast cancer early. My oncologist (and my husband) truly believe that I have been "cured." Furthermore, I AM proud to be a breast cancer survivor. However, I want to cringe whenever anyone says "she's cancer-free!" I don't believe in that statement AT ALL...not for me, and not for anyone else for that matter.

NO, I don't think I am having a recurrence of my breast cancer. I'm not experiencing any crazy symptoms. BUT, I will probably never feel "cancer-free" ever again - not after having given away my body parts, having watched the image of my youth shatter in front of my face, and most especially, having watched cancer take two of my loved ones from me this month. Cancer will always be a part of my life - every time I try to fill two cat bowls instead of one, and every time I think to forward an email to my family and realize there is no one at jcarroll@detroitchamber.com.

I am most in awe (and not in a good way) of people who can feel "cancer-free" after having had cancer in the first place. Here we all were, living our good little lives, and cancer came around anyway. So now, knowing that cancer can come and steal a little part of your world when you are doing everything "right", how can you go back to ever feeling "cancer-free!", especially after your bubble has been burst the first time? Didn't you learn anything the first time around? We aren't immune!

Well, my bubble has been popped for me. The preliminary pop occurred all throughout 2008...when I realized what I would have to give up, and then when I realized that I was going to have to live my life despite the idea that stupid cancer could pop back up, somewhere else, someday... and being a BRCA mutant, I feel even more at risk. This year really finished off the idea of bubbles for me entirely as I watched the life being sucked out of my loved ones.

So what do I think people should say? (Because if you haven't figured this out yet, I am totally opposed to the term "She's cancer-free!") I think I have settled upon the term Survivor. And yes, I hated that term, too, because I thought, "How do you ever really survive cancer? Doesn't it come back for you someday?"

Well, THIS is how you SURVIVE cancer. You wake up, and you decide to live your life, despite the diagnosis. And then, you wake up, and you decide to find something good in your day, despite the pain of cancer treatment, despite the nausea, despite the fear in front of you. And then, you decide to do whatever you can to help other people SURVIVE cancer...you try to show them It isn't that bad. You can still be happy, and crazy, and life a full life, even if you are bald, even if you have only one fake boob for awhile, even if cancer is threatening and taking other people in your family from you. And you take your steps against the disease - you ask people to help you raise money, and to help you make a scene of pink for 3 days in the summer, because even though you know that YOU can survive cancer, you also know that there is a scared woman (and her family) out there somewhere who needs that money, and who needs that sea of pink. All of those things make you qualified to say you are a Survivor.

I take being a Survivor seriously...not because I have survived into being "cancer free!", but because I have survived looking at my mortality and not going crazy. I have faced cancer, realized what it cost me, what it may do to me in the future, and what it most certainly has done to my loved ones, and I am sure that I will still live to be a (basically) happy, vibrant woman.

But don't ever put an exclamation point (or several, like it's a party), after the words "cancer-free". And don't expect me to do that, either. And I will tell you why, another day...when I feel like telling you what it looks like to see your darling cat's tumors grow and bleed all over your bed and make her cough and stop purring. And you can hope that I won't tell you what it was like to hold my Dad's hand for his last 10 hours of life, until it was cold and he took his last breath.

After that, you'd never be cancer-free!!!!! either.


Jason said...

Great post Pam.

missmissy said...

you are my hero and my best friend - what you said is the truth - i am standing here today -wishing i had said exactly what you are you said. i am a survivor - but cancer -free -f it.
you are warrior in the face a the shitty cancer crap. i will be by your side until our children don't have to worry about that shit (cancer) anymore.
Yell it out and be proud. You are amazing and I am very proud to call you my friend. You have impacked my life in so many ways - chemo sucked - but i had you to make things better - i love you always,- ,