Health: Is There A Benefit To Cancer
Was exactly my first reaction to what was reportedly the title of an essay set to a student. Once I'd calmed down, I was ready to think about it again. In what way could something which has torn your life apart, put you through hell and back, ever be beneficial?? Let me think, no, I was still struggling.
Some of us, if we're lucky, will live to say we beat it, even then, it's never over. Then starts the 'What if it comes back?', the 'Why me?' and the 'Did I do something to get it?' Followed by the guilt - why did I survive when others didn't. Let's also not forget the constant reminders of the dodged bullet - the ads on TV, the soap plots, the news stories - each reminding us of our our mortality.
I write following a week where columnist Deborah James has been told she's NED (No evidence of disease on scans), this comes after she was diagnosed with incurable bowel cancer four years ago. Has she celebrated? No, because she admits that lurking there is the knowledge of recurrence, and the same goes for many other survivors.
I had a 1-2% chance of mine returning, which means I probably had more chance of winning the lottery or being struck by lightening. Neither happened. That doesn't mean the fear ever left me. After the treatment finishes, a new challenge begins - Life - and trying to return to any kind of normality. Any cancer survivor will tell you there is no return to the life you once had, and so begins a new norm, with this changed body and changed outlook on life. I read something, which I would agree is pretty accurate, in which a survivor compared life now to being followed by a gun man with the trigger pointing at your head - will he pull the trigger or won't he and when???
However, one persons norm is not another's. Some move on better than others and have better coping strategies. There are those that say there is 'a benefit', now the only angle I can see this from is being given another chance, think of it if you will as a little like a Cancer Ground Hog Day or Christmas Carol - only you get tossed back into the world and expected to carry on. But this is your chance to put things right isn't is? Walk away from that toxic relationship?, ditch the 9-5?.
With that though comes an added pressure. It's easy to feel you need to achieve more, and faster (and believe me, you can feel a failure when you don't), or to do more to help others. Speaking of which, boy does it sort out who your friends are. A simple text asking they can do anything can mean the world, and yet so few think to do it.
The first time I had cancer I kept it pretty much to myself - only those closest to me knew - not a word on social media. So why did I do it differently the second time? Basically, there are so many misconceptions about cancer and life after cancer, that I figured if I could help anyone, even if it was one person then I would put it out there. Even then, there are trolls ready to bring you down.
Depression is common amongst survivors and this is something that surprises people, yet actually PTSD is quite common and survivors need to realise its OK not to be OK. Things should get easier in time, but there is no shame in getting help from whatever resource available to help you come to terms with what you've been through. Things don't just go back to normal when treatment ends.
From the moment it starts, in my case a lump, you are thrust into a whirlwind of tests, scans, appointments, treatment and you are under a metaphorical medical wing, but when treatment is over, what then? Suddenly there's no one checking you're ok, no one to ask questions, no one checking your blood to make sure everything is functioning. In a group session once a fellow survivor had been re-diagnosed. Her cancer had returned and she said as much as it was a bad situation, she almost felt like she had been waiting for it and felt a sense of relief when it came back because now she felt like she was finally back in control again. Yep - thats how much it messes with your mind.
So, do we go around with a hearts full of goodwill, making merry and smelling the flowers along the way once it's over? To extent we do, and there is truth in that a good slap around the face with a brush with your own mortality does wonders for clarifying what you want out of life - do we achieve it? Not necessarily, and our failures hurt us more, but next time the shower leaks or you spill something on the carpet - it's not the disaster it might have been pre-cancer, but I'd gratefully go back to those days.