Making Sense of Cancer

contemplativeThe day I heard my cancer treatment was at an end, I was shattered.

For a full year, I had fought this dreaded disease with everything in my power. I had undergone two lots of surgery and seven weeks of radiotherapy (also called radiation). I had been subjected to two regimes of chemotherapy, each lasting nearly five months and using a total of five different cytotoxic drugs.

So why the strange reaction?

On the 16th November, 1998, I lay on the treatment bed and watched the yellow liquid running into my veins. I rejoiced. This was my second last treatment. In three weeks time, I would have my final dose of chemotherapy. What would it feel like to know the year of treatment was over? I felt excitement as I anticipated the celebration we would have on that glorious day when the needle was pulled out of my chest for the last time.

My oncologist entered the room, and started to disconnect the tubing. He smiled at me. “That’s the end of your treatment. No more chemo for you. How does it feel?” I looked up at him, puzzled.

“No. I have one more in three weeks time.” His smile didn’t change.

“Nope. You’re done. I’ve decided you’ve had enough.” I felt a rush of panic. He was making a mistake. He needed to check his records. I still had to have one more. My thoughts changed. Maybe he’d had enough of me. He didn’t think it was worth wasting more medication on me. He knew I was going to die. My mind raced in circles as I watched him remove the last of the tubes, and stretch a plaster across the small wound leading to the A-port that carried the drugs to my heart.

“I don’t mind having one more,” I said, trying to stay calm. “Really I don’t. Rather safe than sorry.” He shook his head.

“You’re body’s had enough, Shirley. Trust me. It’s time to stop.”

For the rest of the day, I tried to look happy. I told my family the “wonderful news”—yet I was filled with dread. I felt as if I had given up my fight. I have since learned that many cancer survivors face the immediate post-treatment phase with the same reactions I had. They are flooded with feelings of helplessness. Their future seems uncertain. The support they had during their illness and disease comes to an end as people rejoice that they have survived the treatment and are now well on their way to good health. The survivor is now on his or her own. Or so it feels.

So how can we get past this feeling of helplessness (and not everyone feels that way)? Are there ways that help? I believe there are, and over the next few posts I plan to look at some of them. 

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