“So, your cancer’s gone now?”

I’m always at a loss when people ask me if I’m “okay now.”

The line between having cancer and being well is never clear.

“So your cancer is gone now, right?” they ask.

“I don’t know. I’ve completed my treatments.”

“So you’re in remission!”

“I mean – maybe.”

“No tumors anymore, right?”

“Well, not that I know of.”

“That’s great!”

“Yeah, I mean there are side-effects, and the radiation is said to age you. There’s also the hormone therapy and its side effects.”

“Oh. You’re better now, though, right?”

By this point in the conversation, my interlocutor is looking at me funny. Their eyes say, “Why are you being so negative?” Their narrowed gaze asks, “Are you trying to hold on to that cancer card? Because we can’t be expected to grant you that card indefinitely, you know. I mean, bald people in chemotherapy attract sympathy. Surgery is tough – well, just the mastectomy, maybe, because OHMYGAWD no boobs. As for detection, uncomfortable mammograms, painful biopsies – those you need to be grateful for. …

“But once you’re done with all those, and you look normal, you really need to return that card and get back to your scheduled activities. Sympathy is exhausting. Especially Cancer Sympathy. That is utterly draining. And we really have to move on from it eventually.”

So at this point in the conversation, I say, “Yeah, I’m much better!” and let them off the hook. If it’s a supervisor or colleague, I’m under particular pressure to demonstrate wellness.

That way, maybe they can wear a “Fight Like a Girl” t-shirt, or a pink ribbon, or run their Breast Cancer marathon, and be done with it. FP_FightGirl.jpg

Recently, I’m much more likely to get injuries and aches. Suddenly, in the past few months, I’ve  realized my knees won’t bend easily. Sitting in prayer is difficult. Sitting in a plane for a long ride is difficult.

Oh wait, sitting in a chair is difficult.

Last night, I did my back in last night, and was amazed by how much my day changed from what I’d envisaged. I had a long lost of things to do, but ultimately, I sat there, thinking, only: IF I MOVE, IT WILL HURT AGAIN. Today, I had trouble sitting on the toilet seat long enough to finish; sitting on my comfortable recliner; getting in and out of bed; getting stuff out of the fridge … You get the idea.

But no one associates back pain with cancer.

Despite my back, I made it to the dentist. She examined my X-rays and told me, “You’ve got some dental bone loss.”

Of course. The hormones I take to slow the growth of breast tumors can decrease bone mineral density, and increase my risk of developing osteoporosis. It can prevent cancer – but make it more likely I’ll develop mobility issues.

This medication can also impair my thinking. (I’m an academic).

I’ve noticed joint pain and stiffness, especially my ankles and feet. Backaches and headaches are more likely. Depression.

Insomnia. Which is the bane of my existence.

But people don’t associate insomnia with cancer. Insomnia doesn’t come with baldness.

Rarely in all my treatments have any oncologists or nurses really acknowledged that the treatments and hormone therapy have problems and serious side effects.

Heck, the treatments can give you cancer. Other cancers.

When you’re faced with serious health issues that make normal life impossible, you can be pardoned for contemplating quitting the treatments that can lead to you – getting a recurrence of breast cancer.

No wonder it’s common for women to quit the medications that are supposed to help prevent breast cancer.

Ah, choices, choices.

Know this: the line between having cancer and being well is never clear.

Thanks to your insurance, your doctors, and the nature of the medical industry, medical imaging will not happen very frequently – unless you’re willing to pay thousands of dollars out of your pocket – so certainty is impossible to come by. Each kind of imaging tends to be specific for certain types of cancer.

And once your treatments are over, the only way you will be able to check is if you detect symptoms, e.g. lumps; but they’re not always detectable.

ultrasound.jpgNot long ago, I detected what I thought was a lump. It occupied my mind for weeks until I was able to see my oncologist and he checked the “lump” and approved an ultrasound. The document on the left liberated me from weeks of wondering where my life was about to go now. It took time; I had to take time off to go get the ultrasound; and then I had to hurry back to work and my regular routine, to establish that I was no slacker.

Meantime my entire system had to quickly bounce back from preparing for a whole other trajectory. All of that, I had to do alone. On the outside, all anybody knew was: “She had a scare. It was nothing.”

The line between having cancer and being well is never clear.

 

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2 Replies to ““So, your cancer’s gone now?””

  1. Shabana baitee I had known from Zarina but I know exactly what you are saying. This is a whole new perspective. Yes I am also familiar with that “alone” feeling. I went through that alone feeling when I was in bed for three months long before you were born and cancer or any disease gives you that feeling because you are alone fighting it although many of your dear ones and doctors etc. are supposedly with you. May Allah keep it away from you now. Likelihood is that it is “cured”, speaking as a doctor. But that suspicion bhoot is always lurking behind somewhere in all these statements and we know it

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