Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Survivor, Veteran, Thriver. That's What I Want to Be

November 11th has special meaning as we remember and honor those who have served and fought for our freedom and all that we are thankful for.
This year, November 11th is also the one year anniversary of my last chemo treatment—a marker in a different kind of battle, a very personal war.
So what has changed in a year?
For one thing, I have a head full of hair—an external sign that the “good” cells affected by treatment are healing. My body once again feels like my own.
That leaves my mind and spirit.
A phone message from the doctor’s office still sends a shiver through me, even when it can’t be bad news because I haven’t had a test or exam in weeks. I get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I hear about someone else’s cancer recurrence. The difference, 12 months later, is most days, I’m strong enough to remind myself everyone’s cancer is different. Today, it’s easier not to take another person’s cancer outcome on as my own.
I am more acutely aware that cancer is everywhere. It’s not just the people we know who have it; it’s the daily mention of cancer in the news, commercials, books and TV. The next time someone has cancer on a TV show, note the bleakness in everyone’s voice and eyes when we learn that it’s stage 4. Am I the only one who never noticed before that cancer is always stage 4 and seemingly hopeless on TV?
In almost every novel I read, there’s a character—usually a woman—that dies from cancer. Am I reading too much women’s lit?
A year ago those TV shows and books freaked me out so much I had to turn the show off or put the book down. Today, I try to remind myself they are not my life.
I do not want to be held hostage by fear.
Last month, at AtlantiCare’s Women’s Health Event,  it really resonated with me when Christina Baker Kline called herself a cancer veteran rather than a cancer survivor.
Then, someone who read my recent Philadelphia Inquirer essay, Cancer through the Rearview Mirror,  identified as a Cancer Thriver.
A Cancer Thriver.

As my body, mind, and spirit continue to heal, that is what I want to be.