Mommy Doesn’t have Cancer Anymore

(After a mastectomy, 4 rounds of AC, 3 rounds of Taxol and 6 Herceptin treatments the shock of my breast cancer seems to have worn off with my kids…)

I glanced down at the clock in my car, saw that it said 5:10, added the five minutes in my head to learn the actual time of 5:15, and announced with bravado to the 4 twelve year old boys crammed in the backseat,

“We are now officially late for practice,”

“Great.” said my son, Aidan, “Coach’ll make us run laps.”

“Tell him it’s your mother’s fault. I’ll take the blame.”

“Yah, I could play the cancer card,” he said, feeling like a big man in front of his soccer teammates.

” No, that’s not necessary,” I said, “besides…”

“Besides,” said my 9 -year -old daughter from the passenger seat, “She doesn’t even have cancer anymore.”

She said it as casually as if she had blown a soap bubble at me through a two -sided wand. I let the statement hang in the air a few seconds , opened my mouth, and shut it again. I decided not to correct her.  Why not let her believe that?

See the truth is a little harder to explain.  Most people don’t understand it, how could a little girl? The truth is that I will always have cancer. Just because my hair is back and I can run again and feel better doesn’t mean the cancer is gone. It just means,that my hair is back and I can run again and I feel better. The problem with breast cancer is that they are never sure if it is ever gone; especially when it is her2neu positive.I will never ever NOT have cancer.  It doesn’t go away.  It’s the reason they give you all that nasty chemo; because they can never be sure if one little cancer cell didn’t get loose and is festering in some deep dark bodily crevice . Those little cancer cells are insipid. (Isn’t insipid a great word?  The word itself is so…well, insipid). They lurk. They hide.  They multiply.

The question is not IF the cancer will come back but actually WHEN it will come back.  I hear so often of women reaching their 5 year survivor-ship goal only to have the cancer recur the next year.  Seven seems to be the number I hear a lot. It’s in that seventh year that the cancer rears it’s ugly head in either another breast or in the bones or in the brain. Just when you think you have beat it. Stages don’t really seem to matter either.  I have read stories of woman with stage 1 breast cancer with recurences in a year in the brain. And yes, I have heard wonderful stories like the woman at Walden who is a 12 year survivor and others who have lead full wonderful lives. But even 12 years out, I am sure that woman thinks about cancer every time she has an ache or pain and every time she has a fever.

See this is something I never knew before. I always assumed, like my daughter, and I am sure a majority of well-intentioned people that you got cancer and either a) you died from it, or b) they cured you. I never understood the third option c) that they treat you, you recover from the treatment, and then live your life with the continuous nagging thought that some day it will return. I never understood how cancer messes with your head. The doctors will check me periodically to see if there is cancer in certain places that they can see; like my other breast or my cervix, but they won’t know whether or not the cancer has returned to other spots in my body until I become symptomatic.  If my bones start to hurt they will give me a bone scan or if I lose my balance and forget pertinent information then they will give me a brain scan. Otherwise, I am just left to my own resources.  Left to years full of endless dark nights of wondering and worrying.

There was a listing in Parade Magazine this past Sunday of the 10 things to do for someone you know who has cancer. One of them mentioned a couple on their way into a chemotherapy session.  This man and wife met their pastor who asked the woman how she was doing, to which the husband replied, “She’s doing great. She is going to be fine.”  The wife turned to her husband and told him that that was very easy for him to say since at night he would roll over and go to sleep while she laid awake in the dark worrying about all the things that were not “fine.”

So I must get used to the fact that I will always have cancer. I look forward to a time, and  have read that this will happen, when there will be whole days in my future where I won’t even think about that fact.  My cancer may not recur for many years, or it may be next year. This I do not know.  For now I will have to let my daughter think that I do not have cancer any more because it makes her feel better.  As a matter of fact, It makes everyone feel better.



10 Responses to Mommy Doesn’t have Cancer Anymore

  1. Vicky Squires says:

    I can relate. I have only had one chemo treatment so far. They had to start me on Taxol and Herceptin because I still have open wounds form August 13th surgery of bilateral mastectomy and tram flap reconstruction. I am also HER@neu positive.

  2. bcjenster says:

    I’m three years out and I can tell you with a certainty that the longer you go with clean scans and good reports the farther from your mind it gets. True, there’s no cure for cancer. But neither does that mean you WILL get cancer again.

    I never realize until my scans are over and I get a good report just how deep I was holding my breath and I suppose it will always be that way. But in between scans and when I’m feeling good – cancer is not an issue. Two years ago – it was an issue. Heck, even a year ago it was an issue.

    Chirp up, chicken (as my good British friend says). The mind games lesson after a while. Maybe not completely, but they will diminish. Promise.

  3. imstell says:

    It’s funny. I do not consider myself to have cancer anymore. However, on some level I must because I will catch myself saying “the cancer I have…” and stuff like that.

    I do know that on some level I also just assume I will recurr. Yet on another – I’m that 10%, Baby, that never recurrs again! It’s strange to live with both the beauty and the beast inside… never knowing which one will look back from the mirror on any given day.

  4. Sarah S. says:

    My kids say that all the time too. The worry of reoccurence is always there. Like I wrote in my post the other day. You never know what is happening in your body. I think sometimes that the mind part of the cancer is just as hard as the treatment part.

  5. Angela says:

    Ithink it is VERY important to have possitive thougts. Your daugther is right, you are cancer free (repeat this every morning). As soon as you start feeling “negative”, clean the bathroom or do something else. My best wishes for you. Angela . Madrid (Spain)

  6. whymommy says:

    Fran, you sound like a kindrid spirit. We WANT the cancer to be gone, we WILL it to be gone, heck, a whole lot of us even PRAY that the cancer will be gone. but is it gone? We just don’t know.

    I’m 17 months past diagnosis. I didn’t know that I’d live 3. Yeah, it will come back, and yeah, it’ll be bad when it does. But now — for now I’m clean.

    (And I want to know how to work up to running. I walk a few times a week, but I just can’t get the body to cooperate with a run anymore!)

  7. Becky says:

    I just found this website….I am 31 years old, was diagnosed April 25, 2007 and reading this post made me think that you had finally put into words how I have been feeling and how my husband feels as well. I don’t necessarily think that it is that I have all of these negative feelings, it is just that it is all still very REAL to me. For others, it is very easy to say that the cancer is gone, life goes on, but my life will never be the same…for better or worse…cancer has changed me and I do live with the reality that my cancer could come back at any time. Does that make sense?

  8. lorri s. says:

    Wow. Perfectly worded piece. Thank you for being so articulate.

  9. There is another option: d) that a cancer patient will actually have cancer and LIVE with it for the rest of her life.

    I am HER2+, stage 4, and will be on chemotherapy for as long as I live, and I am planning on living for a long time.

    I do not believe in living in cancer’s shadow. I fight that feeling at every turn.

    After all, wouldn’t it be a shame to live another twenty years in fear of dying tomorrow?

    (is that clear?)

    What I am trying to say is, enjoy where you are right NOW.

    If you are cancer free today, then enjoy being cancer free today.

    No one knows what tomorrow will bring.

    After all, as my husband once said to me, “you don’t know that you are going to die from cancer, you might get hit by a car!”

    And he thought he was chearing me up! 😉

    Meanwhile, “they” might find a cure for cancer… tomorrow!

  10. natureschain says:

    Great writing. After my first melanoma was removed and no evidence of it’s spreading was found in 2005 my father announced that I was cured. My jaw dropped. There was no more evidence of it for three years, until this past July when something effected my ability to walk, and it turned out to be mets in my brain. Now they have been irradiated and are shrinking. Two way-less-invasive-than-they-could-be treatments, but cancer comes back. And people don’t get it.

    My daughter is eight, and it scares the hell out of me that she does get it, although I don’t push some of the details either. I haven’t had to go through chemo or a lot of radiation. She hasn’t had to see that side of it. In my mind I add “yet” as I type that though.

    My sister-in-law just got clear scans after chemo for lung cancer. Right now she’s ecstatic. I’m waiting to call her and say “when you worry, call”. I’ve never not worried. I feel better reading things like your post, knowing I’m not the only one thinking about living with cancer even when it’s supposedly gone. That’s my reality.

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