What's Being Cancer Free Really Like?

14 September 2017
  • Teens

What's Being Cancer Free Really Like?

Author: Azreen, 22, Teen, Ewings Sarcoma

Imagine.

Imagine you’re in a little glass box. Around you is everyone you know, from your immediate family, to your best friends, to just people you know from here and there. In your box, they can see you, they can sympathise with you, and they can see that you’re stuck, but they’re outside. They can’t touch you, they can’t get you out, and they talk to you and help you forget that you’re in the box for a moment. But soon enough they’re walking along moving on with their lives. Anywhere you look, you see people jumping up, wearing mortarboards, holding a rolled up piece of paper in their hands, celebrating an end to their education. You see people you grew up with holding the hand of their significant other as they say their vows, you see the first smiles of their gorgeous new born, you see them go on their first holiday, get their dream job. You see them achieve everything that you thought should be yours.

Now, in no way am I questioning my Qadr and not accepting that what’s happened is for the best.

But I had dreams too.

Had.

“Your scans are clear. You are now in remission” is in no way an escape from the hell that cancer is. It sure as hell isn’t easier. Is it too audacious to say that it’s worse?

Here’s why:

The person at the end of the cancer journey is not the same person at the beginning of the journey. Cancer changes you, you lose friends, you make friends, you learn new things about yourself, you like different things and dislike things you used to love. It becomes insanely harder to make friends and keep conversations going because you no longer know how to. You want to find yourself, but the crippling dizziness, fatigue and nausea has it’s wickedly firm arms wrapped around your already weak body.

At first, being cancer free is a breath of fresh air, the appointments that were once a few times a week have drastically reduced to once every couple of weeks/months. You have time to find a hobby, socialise, all the things you wish you could do, but never had time for pre cancer. But the energy for a hobby is soon lost and motivation to get up and go out is hard to find, then you see it. Your own reflection staring back at you. The sunken eyes, the shiny head, the pale lips. Your own reflection staring back at you in your little glass box. You realise, now that cancer hasn’t got it’s sharp grip around your frail little wrist, you no longer matter.

You’re better now.

Truth is, you still feel as crap as you did during the treatment, only thing is, back then you had an entire party behind you telling you how brave you are, cheering you on, making you forget. Half the time, you were so drugged up you didn’t realise the extent of your illness. But now? Now you’re awake more, you can do a little bit more than you could and that’s when you actually realise how much you can’t do. It’s when you’re recovering that you realise the extent of the trauma you’ve just faced.

Then the questions begin.

“So, what now?”

“Are you going back to uni?”

“Looking for work?”

“Why do you still feel tired, haven’t you been off treatment for months?”

Then your anxiety kicks in.

Why am I not yet looking for work? Am I behind? Am I just being lazy? But what if I can’t keep up with a job? Where would I even work? Do I still want to be a teacher? Do I even want to be around kids, knowing I can’t have my own?

The anxiety is worse when you mistakenly scroll through Facebook and see it again. The graduations, the weddings, the babies, the jobs, the holidays. It’s too much. Then you find yourself wondering whether you’re a terrible person for not feeling happy for them. Am I? You try to remind yourself that everyone has their own time for everything. Yes, things have slowed down but it isn’t the end. It’s a continuous battle with yourself. You try not to hate yourself for being winded from a quick trip down the road. You have to tell yourself, it’s not your fault. You’re not pathetic.

And let’s not get started on the “what if my cancer came back?”

Anytime a tiny little thing goes awry, alarm bells ring in my head. “CANCER. CANCER. CANCER. RELAPSE. RELAPSE. RELAPSE.”

Headache? Am I just tired? Nope, my cancers back.

Tingling in my back? It’s cancer.

After cancer, it’s hard not to focus on everything being a relapse.

BUT. Having said all of this, it’s important to understand it isn’t all bad.

Once your strength starts to slowly come back, you find the motivation to do the things you once loved; drawing, dancing, singing – whatever it may be. You start to experience amazing new firsts such as, the first time you comb your hair, the first time you tie it into a little pony, the first time you go out alone and the first time you apply for a job and get a yes! You get some more colour in your cheeks and spring in your step. Your chemo-brain still limits you somewhat but you can remember things better and you find yourself smiling a little more. Yes, you’re stuck in a glass box that’s travelling slower in time, but that’s okay. Cancer isn’t your fault, the position you’re in isn’t your fault. You’re due for bigger and better things Azzy, time will show you so.

Yes, there’s a misconception that remission = cure and cancer free = easy, but it’s not so. There’s always a high risk of relapsing, there are many hurdles and anxieties you have to face and it’s a whole new journey of discovery that you get to take and honestly, it can be pretty magical if you let it.

On a side note, if you do have a friend or family member suffering from cancer, understand that they need as much support after cancer as they did during. Remission doesn’t necessarily mean that the side effects vanish and everything is okay again. Recovery is a long road, help them through it. Life after cancer can be incredibly lonely, try not to leave a friend in the dark. 

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