In most cancer treatment centers there’s a bell that you ring when you finish treatment. It’s meant to be a milestone, a celebration and an inspiration to all the other patients hearing the bell ring that there is hope for a completion of treatment.
Next Tuesday, I’m scheduled to complete my 12th chemo treatment which is the “final” treatment in this round but really, that’s a fake number. There really is no end in sight to my chemo treatments. I’ve been told my liver and lung tumors are inoperable. They can remove my colon tumor and probably will when I have my colostomy reversed after the first of the year, but the others are too large and invasive to remove – there won’t be enough of my liver left behind to function. So what are my options? Really, right now with the treatment options available to patients with my type of cancer, my best option is to view chemo like a maintenance therapy that can extend my life and quality of life and then hope that as medicine progresses, other options will become available. Because I currently can’t be “cured” I’m technically a palliative patient – meaning I can maintain.
So I’ve been thinking a lot lately, where does that leave me? What is my “status” as a cancer patient? Am I a survivor even without being cured? How do I define myself in this? I don’t really like to think of myself or call myself a “cancer patient” because that makes it sound like cancer is my identity. Am I a “cancer fighter”- maybe, but that brings up visions of me in boxing gloves hopping around a ring, beating “cancer” in the face. I’ve jokingly called myself “cancer mom” because in reality I’m the first exposure many of my children’s peers have had with cancer. I guess for now, I’m just identifying as me. I’m still Rachel. I still make inappropriate jokes, I still hate doing laundry, I still have very little self control when it comes to rice krispy treats.
To be blunt, the fact of the mater is I’ve decided not to die. I know that sounds ridiculous – we all die sometime. I’ve had to place myself in a mindset that says this is not going to kill me, it’s only going to make me stronger.. better. I’ve become a stronger human. I’ve become a better mom. I’ve become a more loving wife. I’ve decided to look at cancer as something going on in the background of our lives..every other week I have a doctor’s appointment and get hooked up to medication that will make me stronger and the cancer weaker. When that medicine stops working, we’ll shift to something that will and so on and so on until one day as an old lady, surrounded by my children and grandchildren I peacefully pass into the next space. I can’t look at this any other way. I can’t let myself limit my life and my plans to the amount of time statistics tell me I have.
Next week at treatment, those of you who follow David and I on social media will see me sporting a new t-shirt I’ve saved for the occasion of “finishing” this round. I’ll be wearing a Captain America t-shirt to chemo treatment. Someone told me at the start of all this that when they were in treatment, they would visualize the chemo going directly to the tumors and destroying them. I had a different take on that visualization. Captain America starts off as a week, puny little soldier – after he’s given an “infusion” he’s strong and ready to kick some ass. I visualize my infusions that way… making me stronger, transforming me into a warrior ready to kick cancer’s ass and live my life.