One thing I've been thinking about, and struggling with, is when do you claim to be cancer-free?
In the medical world, you need to be cancer-free (on scans, with no symptoms) for five years. Now they really prefer the term NED (no evidence of disease) over "cancer free". Most people with cancer aren't ever "cured". They can be in remission, or live the rest of their lives with no sign of this monster, but there is no cure. Some people claim NED or cancer free as soon as the cancer is gone from their body. I'd like to think that my cancer is gone at this point. I had eight rounds of some pretty harsh chemo which blasted my main tumor into fragments only millimeters in size. I'm going to assume if it can do that to a tumor, the red devil and it's evil cousin Taxol must have done a number on any microscopic cancer cells hiding elsewhere. According to my pathology report from surgery, I have negative margins. That means there is an acceptable layer of healthy cells left around the area where the tumor and my cancerous lymph nodes used to reside. So if chemo shattered my tumor and surgery removed what was left...... am I cancer free? Do I wait until after radiation, because surely that will take care of anything that might possibly be left?
The fears and doubts that take up a permanent home in the mind of a cancer patient prevent me from being assured that we "got it all". That's not to say I don't have faith. I do. I have confidence in my doctors, in my treatment plan, in myself, and I ask God every day to heal me. I'm strong. I feel healthy. I feel like I'm kicking ass. Being young, healthy and having a positive attitude goes a long way. But I'm also hedging my bets. Is there a tiny cell that broke away, traveled through my lymphatic system and is hiding on my liver, just waiting to invite some friends? I won't know that for a long time. At this point I'm not sure what kind of scans are in my future. I don't know how Dr. H follows up with breast cancer patients, and even a clean CT or PET scan probably wouldn't put my mind at ease. After all, three mammograms didn't show my Stage III cancer.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life...Look at the birds of the air...and consider the lilies of the field. And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Matthew 6:25-34
I started writing this post last night when I couldn't fall asleep, and I just read that verse this morning. Good advice, that.
I have no problem claiming the title cancer survivor. I've been that from day one, and I will continue to be a survivor for as long as I'm alive - that means I'm winning and cancer is not. I don't know that I will ever be comfortable saying I am cancer-free. Maybe in about 40 years when I outlive all the life expectancy models mapped out for me.
I like the word survivor better anyway.