Cancer Follows Me Everywhere

by Jennifer AnandSurvivor, Hodgkin’s LymphomaJanuary 20, 2022View more posts from Jennifer Anand

I’m heading home after my first date in Boston. Normally my dating app M.O. has ten steps that include texting, phone calls, and other precautions before an in-person meeting. But something was different with this guy. His first message was an open invitation. I hesitated for a minute, then accepted. 

Tonight, as we wrapped up a delicious steak dinner and were lingering over the fresh-cut fries, he mentioned that the last month had been rough. Oh? We just ended Christmas and the holidays, how rough was life? 

“Well, last week I found out I have fast-growing thyroid cancer,” he said. 

I immediately got up on the pretext of getting more ketchup. I steadied myself against the counter behind him as I asked questions about when his PET scan was scheduled and what stage the cancer was.  Somewhat bewildered at my pointed questions, he did answer them. When I finally summoned the strength to return to the table, I sat down and ruefully laughed before turning to him and telling him about my cancer past as a two-time stage 4 thriver. And that tomorrow morning marks ten years since my first diagnosis. 

It seemed fitting that we would meet tonight. 

I almost turned around so many times driving on the way there, chastising myself for doing something so out of character for me. I’ve never met a random person not having done a full FBI-mode stalk on them. But the divine interceded. Because tonight I was right where I was supposed to be. I’ve felt a bit lost approaching my ten-year mark, and it was surreal to meet someone my age, also got-the-world-by-the-tail, crushing life, and beginning on their own cancer path.

And as cancer always does, it changed the course of my life. Our first date conversation morphed into talking about Elephants and Tea, surgery, METS, and adjusting to the life that will now be after cancer. We looked around his half-finished living room and at the beautifully redone kitchen as he talked about wanting to live long enough to enjoy both. Sadly, I knew exactly what he meant.

I remember looking around my room at my things. I still do that sometimes — look around the house, look at my favorite kitchen items, look at my favorite clothes and wonder how long will I get to enjoy those. Not in a morbid or depressed way, but in a heavy reality that our lives are fragile pieces that could end at any time.

His boldness in inviting me was due to his diagnosis,  and my boldness in accepting was due to mine. I would have loved not to have cancer in the evening’s agenda, but I reflected on being diagnosed today. The support, resources and science here today are so much better than they were for me ten years ago. I told him to advocate for himself and get a second opinion. I told him to join the cancer groups, go to counseling and that if he valued his fertility to do something about it prior to starting treatment. I told him to establish good boundaries with his parents before he was too sick. We talked about health insurance, changing job responsibilities, and financial security. Conversations and resources that I wish were available to me when I was first diagnosed. But I’m grateful to be able to pass them on to someone now.

Ten years. It’s a long time. It’s a long time filled with people who will not be here, and who cannot celebrate with me. I mentioned Sam to him. And told him I often question why I am here and others are not. While he nodded in agreement, I don’t think he fully understands at this point in his life. I truly want him to survive and thrive. But my brain knows just enough cancer stuff to wonder if it is wishful thinking. 

My heart is breaking for a man I met five hours ago,  knowing the pain he is going to face on his treacherous path forward. While he was in good spirits, and was supported by his friends this weekend, the deep pain of a diagnosis resonated with both of us tonight.

As sad as I am for him, I felt super sad for myself. I couldn’t go on a first date in a new city with a nice guy without cancer coming back to hit me once more. I wish I didn’t know what to tell him. I wish I could have said a stupid platonic “you’ll beat this” and hyped him up and left. But I couldn’t. I told him what would suck. I gave him important resources and offered my support. He gave me his phone and I opened Elephants and Tea to show him my articles so that he could see me and read my very personal life history spilled on the internet for all. I wish I could get a freaking break. I wish cancer wouldn’t haunt me from every aspect of my life.

Ten years of friends who did the ol’ cancer dash because they couldn’t stand seeing my pain. Ten years of incredible amazing friends who have chosen to stand by me, and hold me up when my strength is failing. Ten years of seeing the birth of communities and conferences like Cancer Con and Elephants and Tea. Ten years filled with more medical health professionals and medical terminology than I ever wanted to know. Ten years filled with hemolytic anemia, arthritis and fibromyalgia, type 1 diabetes, heart/liver/lung/kidney problems and concerns, and who knows what else. Ten years filled with organizations like Jeremy Cares, Ronald McDonald House, Smiles with Styles, and Flashes of Hope. Ten years filled with some really, really dark days.

Ten years. Seventeen year-old Jen had no idea what these years would look like. Her life included her dream college, dual major in music and engineering, becoming valedictorian, marriage, pile of kids, and many more things. It definitely didn’t include cancer twice, dropping out of college, limping along to finish, finding a job with an insurance company, buying a house at 23, moving ten hours away for a new job, and so much more.

I don’t know what the next ten years will bring. Definitely more health issues, struggles, and decisions. Maybe new cancer diagnoses. Certainly new community and friends in this strange new city. Hopefully a life partner. Probably more scars across my body. More memories, more pain, more joy. More articles for sure!

I know I’m very blessed to reach ten years. I know many who are reading this are wondering if they will ever reach double digits, and I know the sad reality is that it may not happen. I wish with all my heart that you will. But I also wish peace for you today, and that you will be surrounded and loved by your people. None of us knows what tomorrow holds, but I know I want to live my life in a meaningful way that will leave an impact on those who meet me.

As The Cancer Patient recommends, let’s eat cake! And tonight I’ll pour a drink and raise a toast to you all, wherever you may be, as we continue to trudge through this life with the burdens of cancer. 

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