This week I spent a lot of time visiting with friends – all friends from before I began my cancer journey. It was so great to get a chance to see people again, and to receive so many hugs I am saddened by the loss of friends who cannot cope with my illness, but that is something that I need to move on from. I need to spend my energy being with people who want to spend time with me. There is no shortage there – as my schedule in Ottawa highlighted, I had lots of friends who wanted to see me and spend a little time with me.
One of the biggest challenges is that my friends who don’t have cancer, and especially those that are not that close to me, need me to be well. They need me to say that I am finished treatment and that I’m doing well – that the cancer is gone and that I’m on the road to recovery. And I struggle with that, because I cannot be authentic. I need to be this persona that is doing just fine, when in fact I’m struggling. I’m struggling with the physical limitations that my recovering body has. I’m exhausted. My feet hurt. I ache after sitting for any length of time. I’m struggling with the mental health aspects – managing fear of recurrence. I’m actually doing that pretty well right now but it feels tentative. It doesn’t feel like I’ve completely overcome that yet.
In California, most of my friends are cancer friends. That is, we became friends because we all have some form of breast cancer. It is different interacting with this group of friends because they get it. My schedule has meant that I keep missing support groups. I can definitely feel that gap in my life. I need to spend a little time connecting with people that get it. That understand that although I’m through treatment and may very well be cancer free, I cannot say for certain. I cannot celebrate my six months cancer free until after it has passed. In some ways, I want to have a party, but in others I’m afraid to. What would happen if I schedule a celebration of cancer free and then the cancer came back? I just couldn’t do it.
There is something interesting there. I’m always hedging my bets as it were. When someone asks how I’m doing, I usually say I’m doing OK. But when they ask about the cancer, I’m always hesitant. I won’t say that I’m cancer free or that this journey is over. I cannot say it but also I’m afraid to say it. I’m afraid to say that I am well and clear of cancer, because that just might make it come back. Yes, that is not rational, but there is a sense that saying I’m well with jinx me and that is not something I want either.
For now, I’m doing OK. I cannot say that I’m well, or that I’m done treatment. I may not be in active treatment, but I’m definitely still in active recovery. I still see a series of healthcare specialists. Rarely does a week go by when I don’t have a doctors appointment of some type or another (usually two or three appointments each week). I also have appointments at the gym twice a week. In my mind these are not optional. They are part of my treatment, part of my active recovery.
So, for now, I’m not doing well, but I’m doing OK. I’m actively trying to recover from the various insults to my body. With each day I get a little stronger … but it will be awhile yet before I am truly well.