Well meaning friends still offer to put me in touch with "someone else who has breast cancer."
Three years ago, all these offers were like lifelines. Speaking with other women helped me clarify how I was feeling. I listened to their experiences and identified what "resonated" with me. With each conversation, I better understood myself and, eventually, determined what was "right for me." I became part of a very large, supportive community; a comunity of "survivors."
Most women, who survive breast cancer, eventually get to "move on." True, we are never be the same as "before." We need more frequent check-ups; and we worry that the cancer will return. But, over time, the intervals between check-ups extend to annual check-ups, and the concern fades into the background. Of course, we all have our physical reminders. Our bodies are never the same. Yet, for most women, "cancer" ceases to be the defining element of who we are. And that is how it should be.
But that is not how it is for women with metastasis.
Many of us look "normal." We "pass" for healthy, functioning people. We want to pass. We want to be normal. But we are not "normal."
Every time someone comes up to me and says "You look great! So, are you finished with your chemo?", my stomach plummets. On the one hand, I am pleased to give the impression that I am fine. Because, in many ways, I am fine. On the other hand, I am not fine. I have cancer. I will always have cancer (unless we find a cure and/or God grants me a miracle). And I will always be on chemo. That is just the way it is. And I can live with that. That is the goal: to live with cancer.
When cancer becomes a "chronic illness," life does not "return to normal." "Normal" changes.
We all want to be normal, so we seek out other people like us, other people who are "normal" in the same way that we are.
Since my diagnosis, I sought out other women with metastasis. At first, I focussed on finding women who have been living with metastasized breast cancer for over ten years. It was difficult to find women like that. But, here and there, I found women who are living with it (1 year, 2 years, 7 years....). I reminded myself that women are living longer now, because of all the great new drugs, and forced myself not to be demoralized by the statistics. And I changed my focus. I realized that the primary cancer is less relevant at this stage. I needed to talk with other women who are simply surviving metastasis.
I still focussed on finding other young mothers living with metastasis. I need to talk with other mothers, who have young children, who are concerned with many of the same issues that I am, primarily regarding our children.
But there are other issues as well. Issues that only someone who is living with cancer can fully understand and appreciate.
Every once in a while, I want to be surrounded by women who are "like me." I want to talk, without explaining, without apologizing, without pretending.
I want to be with a group of women who are all playing the same game.
The name of the game: Living with Cancer.
Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.
With love and optimism,