I have never had cancer. I have not been tortured through radiation, suffered the exhaustion and breakdown of chemo, nor has death knocked at my door. Not technically, anyway.
Yet I can’t seem to shake the odd feeling that I am a survivor before anyone has even told me I have anything to survive.
My mom, who should have lived to the age of about 98, given her healthy history of a 74-year-old with the internal and external body of a 60-year-old, was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. PC. PC does not care how healthy you are. It does not care that you haven’t eaten a piece of candy in 40 years, that you didn’t smoke, drink, eat red meat or that you had a diet written by a nutritionist for over 30 years. It does not care that your ancestors had lived healthy lives into their 90’s. It does not care that you are a long distance runner and have the face and heart of an angel.
Instead, it will offer you a few months of life. Which my mother did not take lying down, but instead through aggressive treatments, hours on the elliptical and a pocket filled with optimism.
She was my best friend. Even on the days when I was consumed with my own world and questioned this. I still knew it. There was no one in my world remotely like her.
She lived with this disease for 2.5 years. Not just staying afloat, but really living until she could no longer take another day. She was a survivor. She might not have beaten PC, but she sure did thrive in the life she lived.
But cancer is affects the whole family. Every single one of us. And I feel like I have been in survivor mode since the minute she was diagnosed. I spent the first 5 months in denial about the power of PC and believed that she would beat the heck out of it and land an interview with Dr. Oz. I then moved into my eternal optimist state for the next 2 years with an acute awareness of each present moment. As a family I think we all did an amazing job at that, pulling together as only our home team could, yet it was the aftermath of discoveries once my mom passed away that had kept me stuck in survival mode.
With my mom gone, we were not technically fighting the fight any longer, yet I began my own battle as I found out that my mom wasn’t the only one with the BRCA (breast cancer gene)…as I had it as well.
I began to turn the corner of almost age 50, healthy as can be, training for triathlons in the summer, preparing to marry an incredible man, celebrating life with 4 amazing children…and then this.
BRCA. So basically, my odds were stacked against me with an 85% chance of breast cancer, 40% chance of ovarian and 7% chance of pancreatic cancer and changes would have to be made. More than changes actually, I was going to have to be proactive and make harsh decisions based on the fact that I might get cancer. In fact, the probability was so high that some might say, yea, you probably will.
I now see doctors every 3 months, while just 3 years ago I had one primary O.B. I have had my ovaries removed, am scheduled for a bi-lateral mastectomy and have a yearly abdominal MRI since there is no way to be protected from Pancreatic Cancer. Hormone replacements are not an option due to the estrogen adding to my cancer risk, and am on my 3rd round of MOH’S surgery for Basel cell spots, since apparently the BRCA gene makes you more susceptible to that as well.
So yes, that is why I am still in survival mode. I mean, I am trying to survive cancer…before I get it. I awake with that thought each morning, not as a resentment, but as my truth and remain grateful. Grateful that I know about the demons just beneath my skin allowing me to be proactive and make decisions that might protect me from cancer in the future. Decisions that might prevent my beautiful children from becoming a survivor as well.
So I do as my mom did. Carry on. Live. Manage each week around the hassle of doctor appointments, the aftermath of surgeries, some time off from the gym…and the heartache of losing my mom. But I am clear that some things cannot be taken away. They can cut away at Basel cells, keep my ovaries, and man-handle my hormonal balance, but they can’t take away my spirit and they can’t take away her spirit that lives deep within me.
So actually, I am lucky to be living in survival mode. Lucky to be surrounded by the most supportive and loving family a woman could ask for and lucky, that for today, I do not have Cancer.