In my book Good Grief!, I wrote:
Understand that a headache is no longer just a headache to a cancer patient; in their mind, it is a tumor. A tumor, they believe whole-heartedly will cause a brain aneurysm, that will burst and cause them to stroke out. They are scared that this “tumor” will elongate treatment, take them out of remission, or kill them.
The same goes with a stomachache, a sore throat, any swollen lymph node, a backache, leg pain, gas pains, indigestion, a hangnail, or an ingrown hair. Seriously. I had a hang nail on my toe that caused a lymph node to swell up in my groin and my first reaction was to believe I had two months left to live. In time, these fears will subside and eventually pass, but they can be very real to a cancer patient. Do your best to gently talk your loved one down and try to understand their frame of mind. Thinking clearly and logically can be very different after someone has been diagnosed with a potential life-threatening disease they cannot control.
Nearly 13 years after my very first diagnosis, I still struggle with this same thought process today. 2 weeks ago I began to get severe ear pain, in the same ear where the tumor was found in my parotid gland 2 years ago. My first, second, third, and probably fiftieth thoughts were, “Ugh, the cancer is back! Here we go again!”
Of course a couple of days later, the pain became bilateral in both ears and the reality was I had a little bit of swimmer’s ear. And yet, the “reality” for those who are in the process of fighting cancer or have conquered cancer, is that these fears can become real threats to the realization that life as we have become comfortable with, may once again be changing all too quickly. The thought of surgeries, biopsies, jumbo needles, scans, and really big doctoral words, whirl in our brain, as we rationalize the pain we are feeling, with the likely reality – this is not cancer.
For most survivors, this balance becomes the yin and the yang of life, as we delicately face the threat of what may be (because we know we are no longer invincible to cancer), with the joy of living one day at a time and choosing not to worry. For each day becomes a gift; a precious gift of life we try so hard to no longer take for granted.
Yesterday I had the joy of sharing our 2 year anniversary with 2 other other couples who have also conquered cancer. And, both men ever so proudly smiled, and then told me the exact amount of time their wives have been in remission… down to the day. What an awesome, awesome feeling… one more day being cancer free – I will take it!
Q. Have you survived cancer? What’s your cancer free date?