Saturday, October 17, 2015

What Being a Cancer Survivor Means to Me, 8 Years Later

8 years ago I was fighting for my life. Today, I'm still fighting. The impression that I had 8 years ago of what being a cancer survivor meant is not the reality I live today. I thought I would survive this awful illness and treatment, that I would be cured, that my life would go back to normal. Today, I think of the word "normal" as a delusion, an unattainable house on the other side of the picket fence. I actually can't even define what the word means to me anymore. I don't know what "normal" could be, but this is what my reality is.

I live with pain and fatigue. If you've ever been pregnant or on your worst period, imagine that fatigue. Then imagine that multiplied by, let's say, 3. Or maybe 5. That pain that you have? You feel it in every joint, tendon, muscle. Sometimes it's dull and nagging, if your pain meds kick in the way they should, and you'd qualify it a 5. Sometimes you can't get into any position that's comfortable or provides relief, and you just try to take sedatives to sleep through it. No matter when or how you move, it causes an audible cry or moan of painful transition. Relief becomes a necessary mental exercise.

I live with uncertainty and shitty odds. I know we all live with uncertainty, but my uncertainty stares at me in the face every morning I wake up, every night I go to sleep. When I hear my children laugh, I smile...and then I cry because I don't know how many more times I will get to hear them laugh, like if that amount is small enough to count on my fingers and toes. I think all the time that I probably won't see them get to grow up and become adults, and see what kind of adults they become. So I try so hard to focus on the gratitude now, that I am able to spend time with them and see them grow til whenever I can't see them grow anymore.

I live with a measuring stick in my brain: how my time line and all that I've gotten to experience measure up to those of my young friends who died from cancer: the kids they didn't get to have, the relationships they didn't get to experience, the dreams they didn't get to realize. Sometimes, and I know this sounds crazy and might offend some people, I smoke a cigarette in order to be able to breathe, to level the playing field in a sense, if you can imagine. It's like I'm sitting there, sucking in the carcinogens once in a while to feel less guilty for being alive, like life is a cosmic soccer match (I'm not athletically inclined, so you can substitute whatever sport metaphor suits you, okay?). 

So I sit there sucking down my Benson and Hedges menthol slim and sipping my homemade red wine, watching some sparrows jump around the dog house. And all of a sudden, all I hear is the door behind me open, and my four-year-old firecracker Moxie say, "Mama, can I draw a picture of you?" And that sound is music to my ears. Relief is immediate for once.

That's what being a cancer survivor means to me, 8 years later.

*written in honour and memory of my friends who have moved on


Mau Mai said...

Hi Brandy, I read your reflection and I was wondering if your health is failing again or if it's just a consequence of the past and present treatments. Since the time I read the article about you on a neighbourhod's newspaper, in Vancouver, I have followed your journals. I have seen you've been going ahead with your life and new family. Thank you for sharing them. Lately, in our church, we had our permanent deacon who diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and shared his experience with the whole congregation, one Sunday. Everyday is precious. I wish you all the best. Sincerely, Maurizio

My Dog Sam - Ruptured Disk said...

Hi Brandy, my name's Sam - actually my dad writes my blog for me. We first learned about you and your on-going struggle on CBC Radio (we think). We won't bother telling you that you should continue to "fight" because we have no idea of what or how you would do that. Perhaps it's a matter of "will-power" of not giving up the hope of seeing another day. I'm a mixed breed Cocker Spaniel and I suffered a ruptured disk about 5 years ago. My peeps had surgeons work to repair the damage but there was too much nerve damage and so they got me a wheelchair so that I could go out for walks and stuff. Since that date, they've added lasering for sore muscles and a bit of arthritis that's been developing in my front legs. The deep heat really helps with the soreness. Maybe you should consider this. The lady that lasers me also lasers the VPD's horses and some officers and people too. I also swim in a hot water pool every Sunday and get acupuncture once a month. We hope that by telling you a little about us that you'll smile and be a little less in pain for a moment. We'll check back to "see" you. Meanwhile, he's a link to my blog:

Unknown said...

I saw a post of yours on another site as I was trying to find info on pregnancy after a bilateral tram reconstruction. Did I find the right person here? I could use some advice if it is you, as there certainly ly are not many people out there in this situation.

Allison said...

Hi Allison, I sent you a google hangout invite. Yes, tis I who had a pregnancy after a bilateral tram. You're right--I think I'm the only person I or my surgeon knows of who's gone through that. So I'd be happy to tell you about my experience.

Unknown said...

Hi Brandi, Hideo Maruyama sent me this blog and I'm so glad to have found it. He shared that you had kids post cancer and I find that awesome and inspiring. I think from a quick glance, that we had different forms. I have ER/PR + and my doc told me i'll need to take an anti-hormone pill...obviously not good for being able to produce eggs, much less a period. I look forward to reading more of your blog here and would love to connect at some point over the phone or if you're in LA at some point in the next several months/year? sending love, traci akemi