I can’t help but read cancer stories when they come across my social media feeds. It’s what we, cancer patients, do. We’re primarily searching for a couple things.
1. Treatments or lifestyle patterns that may lead to a favorable diagnosis down the line.
2. Conclusions of the story. We want to know if the person died or lived.
The first consideration is more a matter of practicality, and a healthy dose of wishful thinking, various degrees of desperation and blind hope. The second is…well, our biggest concern. Admittedly, I didn’t think reading about a patient’s unhappy ending would affect me as much as it does, but watching the little bits of my sister’s passing…I know how awful it is. And I don’t ever wanna go there, so when someone’s story brings them to those months of rapid deterioration and everything that comes with it…I can’t help but feel dejected.
Then there are the other stories…which fall into 2 categories. There is the ultimate NEC diagnosis, No Evidence of Cancer, that every patient wants to reach. Then there is the patient surviving cancer and living a full, rich and rewarding life despite the blackened cloud hanging precariously close. Again, I’ve found it surprising how uplifting these stories have been for me. To see others reach that NEC moment, continues to prove the possibility that others of us might find the same. It’s not always a losing proposition, and the more NEC and “thriver” stories out there, the more we think our chances aren’t so fragile.
I’m ashamed to admit though…I don’t always have such a positive reaction to these success stories. Lately, I’ve read of cancer patients living through their cancer experience with great comfort, managing their treatments, and essentially living the same lives they did prior to diagnosis. The emotional weight may be ever present, but their physical lives are relatively unchanged. They can work. They raise their kids. They go on vacations. They continue being physically active.
And that hits me hard.
At first I thought I was angry at their stories. Then frustrated. But then I realized…I’m jealous. I’m jealous because I read these stories about cancer patients surviving with their disease for 5, 10, 20 plus years as more of a minor inconvenience than a definitive physical complication, and I’m jealous because they got to keep their previous lives….and I didn’t.
I’m jealous because I’m a runner, and the combination of cancer and chemotherapy doesn’t allow me to be the runner I once was. To some degree, I can run with as much effort as I once did with cancer at it’s earlier stages…but it’s not the same with chemotherapy. I simply can’t hold on to the running life I had prior to diagnosis while going through treatment. So I can’t help but harbor a degree of jealousy towards these other survivors. I only wish my life could be the same. But it’s not.
I’ve hit the wall. But my wall is different. I’m up against the wall of drugs. I have so much ambition to run as much as possible right now. I’m not restricted by my body or motivation in any ways…it’s the drugs that are holding me back. I can only run so many miles before the blisters from hand and foot syndrome become too many, too problematic. I can only run so many miles before the neuropathy in my toes causes me to sustain injury from an altered gait. I can only run so fast before the decreased amount of red blood cells necessary to deliver oxygen to my legs and lungs begins to push back. I can only take so many deep breaths with periodic blockages in my intestines from a compromised digestive system and all the other fluids sent through my body during CAT Scans and infusions.
I’m just not the same. No matter how hard I want to push myself, while I’m going through treatment, I will never be able to reach the previous runner highs I sustained before. Until I’m off these chemicals, I will not be the person I was before diagnosis, I will not get back my old life.
So I’m jealous, when other patients get to experience cancer as an annoyance and go about their business.
But you know what…I wouldn’t trade them places. I know what I was and I know what I can still be when the poisons finally leave my body…whenever that is. I would never trade the abilities that lie dormant somewhere deep within me, for a different experience of cancer. I’ve never lost sight of my place among others going through similar times of adversity. I’m INCREDIBLY fortunate to be able to do what I can, to be holding cancer at bay, to be entering surgery again, to be as active as I am when others are doubled over from nausea, weakened from the toxicity, and bed-ridden from fatigue. I have been them, and will probably be with them again post-surgery…but only temporarily.
Because I’ll be rebuilding again, trying to get stronger and stronger, back to running, and if all goes as best as we can hope…with No Evidence of Cancer. And then I can finally get back to the life I had previously, that is as full, rich and rewarding as it can possibly be. No restrictions. No chemicals. No boundaries.
Believe me, I dream of that day. When I feel the ground beneath my feet, through my heels, the forefoot, and each and every toe. When I feel my lungs breathe easy, and my pace rise higher and higher without effort. When the pains around my toes dissipate to nothing. And I can run, with no other thought except running.
I’m envious and jealous of those stories now, but soon I hope to only be focusing on my own again. 25 days till square one.