“When your cancer returns, remember we are here to help you. You are not alone in this, Stacey.”
Such reassuring words were never so spoken so timely. I’ve heard those words before – many, many times before. And I know I am not alone. I have my family and my friends, my former students and my social network friends. Everyone plays an important role in my recovery from cancer. I’ve heard, “we are here with you”, “let me know if there is anything you need”, and “I’m a car-ride away”. For some reason, however, it was Dr. Singh and my nurse Candy who finally drove the message home for me yesterday. Why did it take me so long to really hear that I am not alone? I don’t know. But it was like the words broke through the ice dam of my brain, weakened by the affirmation that I am still “good”. “Everything looks good. Your blood looks good – your CA levels are within the normal range. You look great.” Oh! Such words would never sound so sweet!
I had convinced myself that the cancer was back. I was sure of it. And I did not want to be caught off guard again. Not this time. The shock of being told that you have Stage IV ovarian is nearly up there with the declaration itself.
“Are you sure, Dr. Singh? I have this pain in my side that comes and goes but it feels like it may be one of those “seedings” that I had across my abdomen.”
“Stacey, it really doesn’t sound like anything to be worried about. If it were one of those seedings, you would feel pain all the time and you would not be able to sit up.”
“Well, I don’t have pain all the time – and I can sit up well.”
“If you like I can order a CT, but then we will forever be chasing shadows when it may lead to nothing. You need to be sure to live your life and not focus on the numbers or tests.”
She was right. It was/ is time to live. I have a team. I have the resources in place for when I do get sick – if I get sick again. I have to life.
“Do you think I should get a CT, Dr. Singh?”
“I would not recommend it.”
“Then I won’t. But what I think I do need is a social worker. I have to learn to live. I cannot keep doing this roller-coaster every three months. It stresses me out too much and I lose days to anxiety. I can’t keep “sliming” my friends a week before my appointments. It is just not fair. ”
“I can do that. Many people use social workers. You have been through a lot – your surgery was extensive. You are only normal to feel this way.”
“I’d like to go back to work, but I am ready. I don’t feel I can handle work yet. I think I am better physically and maybe now it it time to work on my mental health.”
“That’s a good idea.”
And with that – I gave Dr. Singh a hug and we parted ways -for now.
I don’t know what happened differently that time. But I left feeling calm, reassured that I had a “family” at Royal Victoria Hospital. My family would be there for me, always. I belonged to them and they to me. My success and recovery was theirs. My illness was also theirs. My joy – was their joy. It was time – it is time – to give back. For the first time, ever, I decided that I was ready to give back. I decided to look into volunteering at the cancer clinic. Maybe serve coffee? Maybe bring juice? I could do that. I am ready. I am not alone. It took me a long time to realize that. I am part of a community of survivors whose lives include cancer. I am a fighter. I am strong. For the first time since the beginning of this very intense journey, I have realized that I am much stronger than I ever thought I could be. I do not stand alone.
I am officially in my 9th month of remission and feeling like I have the world by the tail. I love life. I am grateful for everyone and everything in it.
Now – it is time to live.