On Two Years of Cancer Survivorship

Two years ago today I woke from surgery and found out that I had cancer. This morning I woke up with anxiety over an MRI I’m getting tomorrow for a cyst on my remaining ovary. Technically an improvement! Also, a friendly reminder that once you’ve had cancer it stays with you.

Last year I shared a Facebook post asking people to be aware of the often vague symptoms of ovarian cancer and basically called it a day. It wasn’t a fun day, don’t get me wrong. But looking back at that day from right now, I was feeling more optimistic. Or, maybe I was still in a little bit of denial that it had happened at all. Or, maybe coasting on a bit of a survivor’s high where things were consistently getting better, so it felt a little bit like I had overcome the worst possible thing that would ever happen to me and everything would be up from there. Or, maybe I felt like I had obtained some kind of deep wisdom having survived cancer and it would make all difficult things easier to tackle.

Now a year later I feel like I really haven’t even scratched the surface of what the hell being a cancer survivor means. It feels harder this year. Certain things are easier, I’ve taken to joking about how getting a flu shot is not even remotely a big deal to me now, among other things. The small, easy things in life that might have given me some anxiety before are now rightfully small and easy. And maybe that was the moral of the first year of survivorship. This past year sort of felt like “the hard things are still hard, if not harder.”

Finding out you have a small cyst with an irregular spot is a hard thing. And it’s made harder by the fact that now I have a real, intimate knowledge of what cancer treatment entails. So you mentally run down the possibilities: it’s probably not cancer, I have been told if I didn’t have a history of cancer that this cyst would not be a big deal. So sure, maybe it’s not cancer. But then maybe this is just the first cyst of many and the recommendation becomes a hysterectomy. And then I have to learn what it’s like to be a person that is not just missing an ovary, but most of the organs that biologically make me a woman. Of course, it’s more likely that this will all be fine and the cyst will resolve itself on its own...

… But even then, there’s nothing quite like spending your two-year anniversary of your diagnosis mulling over the reality that you could get cancer again. And I can tell myself that I was able to beat it once, so I could beat it again. Assuming I’d have to go through a relatively short treatment schedule again it seems doable. Maybe that sounds kind of insane to an outsider but that was only four months of my life. And it’s really nice to have a finish line.

What’s exhausting is thinking about what survivorship looks after that because I am currently living in the reality that there is no finish line to survivorship. Vain concerns immediately spring to mind, like “I really do not want to spend another two years growing out my hair.” So I think it’s safe to say whatever deep wisdom I thought I’d gained last year is at best, a work in progress. Then I’d imagine there’s a lot of “well I’ve had cancer twice, that was probably not the last time” and “what the hell does dating look like now” because it turns out that having cancer once makes it kind of difficult.

Then, of course, there’s the general “what the hell do I do with my life now?” thought. Which takes me from wondering about what a hypothetical two-time cancer survivorship looks like to the present, where I am just a one-time cancer survivor figuring out survivorship. And I am still very familiar with that thought and feel like I haven’t acted on it much.

I recently started seeing a therapist (seems like a good step one) and she mentioned in passing that I might find it helpful to write a blog post. Which is something that I had already been thinking about but hadn’t done because it doesn’t seem like relaying my anxieties would be that useful to other people. As trite as it is to say if I can help one person that would make it worth it. And maybe that person will be me, ha!

I don’t want to alarm anyone in writing this— I’m doing well on a daily basis even with this cyst. But this is the reality of cancer. It stays with you and there’s no finish line. Those are two things I feel like I know for a fact and everything else seems up for debate and discovery. Which seems like a good enough place to start with a blog. I don’t plan to always write about my cancer here, but it feels like it’s still just under the surface of everything in my life. And I think documenting things will help me realize I’m doing better than I think I am.

I already feel better for having written and shared this today :)