At age 66, diagnosed with two separate advanced ones (Stage IV ovarian, Stage III breast), cancer certainly got my attention.
All of it. Seems I won the cancer lottery, and not in a good way! While going into action immediately, first I went numb, then in denial, then fear and paranoia, then anger, and finally I think, acceptance and trying to look at the good side. I firmly believe there’s a good side and a bad side to everything, a yin and a yang so to speak.
Having said that, I am pretty much always thinking about it, waiting for the other shoe to drop or I’m mustering the strength to get through yet another test or treatment when I’ve barely had time to recover from the previous miserable test or treatment. Cancer treatment is no fun, it does at many times seem worse than the disease you’re trying so desperately to eradicate from your body.
But so far, having been lucky enough to have minimal side effects and a successful surgery in the sense that nothing went wrong (and I gather plenty can go wrong with the debulking surgery (the mother of all surgeries as it’s known among doctors)), it’s bad when you go through it, and great when it’s over. I tend to try to concentrate on the ‘over’ part and deny the existence of anything bad when it didn’t happen to me. I feel a little bit of denial is a good thing when battling really serious stuff. One has enough reality.
However, though, for those who say, ‘don’t let cancer define you,’ it’s hard not to. On top of all that then there’s the money, the worry, not feeling well enough to deal with the money or the worry, yes, it captures your heart, mind and spirit profoundly.
And that’s before you get to the part about dying. And the realization that the treatment and outcome your great aunt’s first cousin got in 1955 isn’t all that much different than the one you’re about to experience. This is a real downer when you’ve been diagnosed at the advanced stages, let me tell you, and a terrible lost opportunity in the world of cancer research, in my opinion.
But this isn’t a pity party or a diatribe against life and its unfairness. It’s what does one do in the face of such an event once you’ve cried, and wondered and worried and gone into the fetal position a million times?
Well, first it seemed to me I had to decide whether or not I wanted to stay in the game. Simple and basic. Did I want to live? Everything hinged on this, as lack of strong motivation would surely affect the outcome of my treatments, of this I was sure. And this is a very interesting question when it’s not an abstract notion. When there’s a time limit attached.
The Janice who thought about cancer treatments as in, ‘what would I do if I got a bad diagnosis,’ was inclined to believe that a quality of life didn’t allow for mutilating surgeries, toxic chemicals and throwing up.
The cancer diva Janice decided that dying basically by my own hand was very uncool, not the least bit noble, and no less painful or undignified in the end than cancer treatments. And optionless. How can you have a remission if you’re dead? I’m a girl who likes her options.
So, having decided to live, what kind of life did I want to have? This seemed as critical to my treatment plan as the treatments were, or the doctor I chose. It all had to balance. Life couldn’t be about when the treatment(s) were over. In my case, they’ll never be over until I die or remiss, so the good had to be really good and the bad had to be as limited as possible.
Today’s cancer dons and divas, it turns out, live with advanced cancers due to better treatment options that, even if they don’t bring about better outcomes (sometimes they do, but sometimes they don’t), tend to give a better quality of life for whatever time’s available.
Whatever time’s available? Oh, dear, isn’t that a loaded question? But, thinking about that, none of us knows how much time we have available, sick or not, so I decided to stop worrying about that part so much and just concentrate on the here and now. It was a choice for me between having cancer and suffering with cancer, or having cancer and trying to feel good, look good, and have fun whenever possible, recognizing that I wouldn’t always feel so great.
Have Cancer. Will Travel. is about the yin and yang of this journey, the good and the bad. It’s a resource, a diary, a legacy of my journey with cancer, an attempt to build a community, and I hope you get something out of it. I sure will.
Thanks for reading.