Life is hard enough under normal circumstances, but you get thrown into the lion’s den when you are diagnosed with cancer. Its something that changes you forever, whether you want it to or not. The diagnosis and the fallout usurp every fiber of who you are before cancer. If you are lucky, you get cured, but you can’t forget. Some of us are able to shake it off or move on and become survivors. I am not one of them.
I am not a survivor. I am clawing and groping my way through this. I am a “liver”. Everyday I live. Living is hard. Some days when I am lucky, I live very well. I wake up and I am refreshed and ready to take on the day. I don’t resent taking the pills that keep me alive and I happily gulp them down and start my day. I don’t hate my achy bones and I don’t frown at the image I see in the mirror, because it’s full of life and joy. I go out and take on the world like I own it, then come home and fall into bed feeling fully satisfied, and not once throughout the day do I feel like I have cancer. I sleep soundly. Those days are rare. Like a purple unicorn with a four-leaf clover rare.
Most of my days are quite different; I often wake up tired and achy. I’m sluggish and struggle to get through the day, despite the list of things to do. Cancer is almost always on my mind. With every ache, cough and bout of fatigue, I am reminded. Yet I claw and crawl and live.
Living with cancer is exhausting, you never get a break. There are no days off. It is an ongoing slog up hill, sometimes you get a reprieve and there’s a rock you can sit on, but you can’t sit long, because rocks are uncomfortable and you know you need to keep going. Often that is exactly how it is. One foot in front of the other, wash-rinse-repeat. It is the only way to get through the day.
I have been living with cancer for over seven years and its great that I am alive to speak about it, but it isn’t without cost. It warps you. Your sense of self and how you relate to others is forever tainted by the experience of having and living with cancer. Living with cancer makes you myopic to the detriment of relationships and to yourself.
It is a never-ending carousel of ups and downs and it is exhausting not being able to stop the ride. Maybe I sound pessimistic because I am in a funk, or maybe because I am waiting for results of the first CT on a new trial, or maybe its because I’ve had progression and I’m terrified that if this new trial doesn’t work I’m out of options, or maybe I’m tired, or maybe I’m just being real?!
Often times though I think there is an assumption that if you aren’t “sick” and “dying” you must be just fine and dandy. The thing is, we are “sick” and we are “dying”, just not yet. Most people don’t or can’t understand this crazy life we live, how could they? We live in Bizarro Land! They don’t understand why we can’t commit to a vacation date six months down the road. We live scan-to-scan, doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment and we have been doing it since diagnosis. They don’t understand our dark humour. We joke about dying. If you can’t laugh about it, all you’d do is cry. I’d rather laugh. They think we are morbid when we talk about the songs they’d play at our funeral. I want a party, a full on party! I wasn’t a sad sop in life; I refuse to be one in death! The list goes on, and this is our life minus doctor’s appointments.
It can’t all be sunshine and roses, and I try to remember that struggling makes you a stronger person, that adversity makes you thankful for what you have. I have life. It isn’t an ideal life, but it is my life. It is a life that I am grateful for, that I will claw for, that I live for, as long as I can. I’m a Liver. I’m a Lifer.
Anne Marie is a 36 year old lung cancer survivor. Originally diagnosed at the age of 30, she put her career as an educator on hold for treatment. After experiencing a recurrence at 32 she was forced to face what it meant to be incurable. Since then, she has become a patient advocate for both the young adult and lung cancer communities. She has spoken internationally about her experience as a young adult living with lung cancer in the hopes of changing the public’s perception of the disease. Anne Marie currently volunteers as a peer supporter and is a sitting board member of Lung Cancer Canada. “My goal as CKN’s Young Adult Editor is to represent the whole cancer experience and the range of challenges young adults face at all stages of the cancer journey, from diagnosis to remission to end of life.”