Cancer is a lot of things. It can be a terrorist, ripping the visions of your future from your mind and replacing them with a plethora of fear. It can be a teacher of perspective, showing you gratitude for the simplicity and fragility of life, beckoning you to soak in the small moments with your loved ones because you’re never truly sure of how many you have left. It is the master of destruction, leaving you with a mutilated body and mind, making you wish you gave your body the respect it deserved before you knew all it would carry you through. And yet, it can also be the true catalyst for love, forcing you to see the wide network of love and support that rallies around you during your darkest moments and hours.
For me, it is all those things at once and it is also the disease that took my mother from me.
Below is a reflection from the day I went into the Shapiro Family Center at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston to have my port removed. It was removed about two and a half years after beginning aggressive treatments and many surgeries for synovial sarcoma, and nine months after my mother passed away from lung cancer.
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Today we will take this win. We have been monitoring some spots and scarring in my lung for almost nine months now, and I was given the green light to finally have my port removed. So today, that’s what we did.
Of course I am happy, but I wasn’t prepared to feel so much more. So much anxiety, as if somehow by getting my port out I may be jinxing myself. So much reflection of the destruction this cancer has had on my life. So much gratitude that I am in this stage of recovery rather than going into another treatment. But also so much guilt. I’ve heard the term survivor’s guilt many times, and while I understood it at the surface, I never really got it until today.
This week last year I was in a really dark place. I was in the hospital having part of my lung resected to remove a recurrence. I was alone because of the pandemic, and when I woke up from surgery I was terrified to learn I had a chest tube. Every breath felt impossible. I felt completely hopeless and terrified because my cancer had spread, and at the same time my mother’s health was quickly declining. She FaceTimed me that night from her hospital bed so we could be “alone” but together. A few days later she was discharged and began hospice care.
Today, in pre-op, a patient a few bays over from me coughed, and the memories of caring for my mom in her final days came flooding back too. I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. This was when I truly felt it. Survivor’s guilt. A nurse came in and helped me calm down (with tissues and Ativan), and I’m sure she thought I was insane. Here I am, about to have my port removed, and all I can do is cry.
I really am so happy to have my port out. I am so grateful for this calm in my life where I can focus on healing rather than fighting. I’m so grateful for my amazing husband who holds my hand through this crazy life with all its highs and many lows. So grateful for my siblings talking me through these gut punch waves of grief. And so grateful for my family and friends who have lifted me up over the last few years and helped me survive. And while I’m grateful, I am also really sad and angry. Sometimes we need to be two things. And that’s ok.