What it’s like to be in Cancer Limboland

Various random signs pointing "This way"

I was having coffee with my dear friend Dr. Mike awhile back. He brought my attention to research on the emotional challenges of people who had survived a bout with cancer. Imagine going through the upheaval of intensive treatment and then having the whole kerfuffle end with surgery or the last radiation or chemotherapy treatment, just like that. This ending should be a time of celebration, but for many people it’s not. Of course they are forever changed by their experience, and they may suffer from the aftereffects of treatment for months or years or forever. Even without a lingering physical impact, anyone can still feel lost post cancer.

I get that, even though I’m still undergoing treatment. Can I call myself a survivor? Is “chronic cancer patient” a better descriptor? I don’t get a day off taking my chemotherapy pills until I die. Dying might not be for a while, if Dr. Bloody Resident was correct, and if my liver keeps living. Did I mention Dr. Foie Gras noted in his recent procedure report that my esophagus may look even a bit better than when he last took a look? I may have some time yet.

Dr. Mike astutely observed that I’m in a weird place right now, suspended somewhere between living and dying. Rational Annie realizes this state of limbo is a gift that I never thought I’d receive. I imagine if my body keeps on ticking as well as it is currently, Dr. Blood will suggest longer spans between appointments, and with that fewer blood tests and other intrusive investigations. I anticipate Dr. F.G.’s doing the same. Consider me to be in maintenance mode, until something shifts. That’s the ominous part, knowing that something could shift. I imagine this unsettled feeling is quite similar to the real cancer survivor’s worries that the cancer could recur.

I need to get my head around being in this strange place where I’m a fairly healthy person with leukemia. Sure, I’m covered in bruises, and infections are easy to come by, but these are minor inconveniences. Now if I could just skip those leukemia-decimating pills, which I take first thing every morning, I could almost forget I have cancer at all.

Keeping busier (volunteer work, and maybe even a new client this week!) seems to help me somewhat–I’ve always felt better when I’ve had less time to sit around and stew. But the leukemia is always on my mind.

Even if I manage not to think about the illness, cancer is everywhere around me. I’m reading a novel where one character dies of ovarian cancer. I wasn’t expecting that. Cancer rears its ugly head in the media all the time. I can’t even watch hockey (not that I like to watch hockey) because of the players’ cheesy Movember moustaches. It seems like cancer is inescapable these days, at least to me.

I may have to go into hiding. No watching television or reading the news, no more novels unless I can be assured there’s no cancer subplot. But don’t worry, you can always reach me on my cell. If I respond inappropriately to your emojis, however, it’s because my phone lacks my finesse at interpreting your feelings.

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