Many think once you have beat cancer, the fight is over, and you are home free. You can just go back to your life and continue on like nothing ever happened. But it doesn’t work that way. Cancer becomes like a skeleton hiding in your closet, and popping out just to scare the daylights out of you. It’s also hanging in your closet just to remind you of what you have been through and what cancer did to you. The skeleton just won’t let you forget; it’s always there pointing its boney finger at you, threatening to haunt you for life.
The other day when I went to buy food on my break I mentioned to a fellow employee I no longer have to push up bra straps.
She looked at me and said, “Didn’t I tell you, you wouldn’t miss them? You kept saying you would get reconstruction and I told you boobs are good for nothing. Aren’t you happier without them?”
I told her, “Yes, it feels good not to have to wear a bra and I don’t miss them, but yet sometimes I do miss them.”
What I didn’t tell her is the scars on my chest are a constant reminder of the cancer I fought. Each day I look at myself topless, the skeleton of cancer stares at me and I can see its boney jaw moving, “Look what I did to you?” Each time I reach for a bra strap I no longer have, the skeleton says, “I won’t let you forget.”
I don’t just have scars on my chest from this illness I have scars on my soul. I fear constantly something else happening to me, having to go through another surgery or another crisis. I started getting pain in my left foot. My mind whirled. I just went through cancer, I just had two surgeries within three months, I just had needles poked into my right breast, and now I have another problem. I can’t go through another surgery. I don’t want to spend another summer recovering from procedures. I can’t be poked by more needles. This can’t be happening to me.
My foot doctor diagnosed me with plantar fasciitis and tendonitis and sent me to physical therapy. I had surgery for plantar fasciitis a few years ago. There is no way I will go through another surgery. I’d rather suffer. So a-long with therapy, I am getting treatments from my chiropractor. I got a note from my doctor to sit in between customers and I am doing ice and stretches every day. I’ll do whatever it takes to avoid another surgery.
When I saw the breast surgeon who did my mastectomy last month, he said, “Your chances of getting cancer again are very slim.”
The first thing that came to my mind was, “How do you know that?”
Yes, I had a mastectomy and a hysterectomy. Those body parts are gone and are no longer a risk, but there are other parts of my body. A co-worker a few years ago died of bone cancer. A friend at my writing group told of his friend who died of pancreatic cancer. A co-worker went through colon cancer. The BRCA gene puts me at high risk of skin cancer. I have many other body parts where cancer can pop its ugly head up. How can he confidentially say I have a slim chance of getting cancer again? How can I not be afraid cancer may invade another part of me? How do I stop the fear?
I live my life with cancer lurking in the closet of my mind and soul, but I can’t let it rule my life. Each time I look in the mirror at my chest I say, “Aimee, you are still beautiful. Cancer didn’t take that from you.”
My friend and fellow survivor, Jamie, messaged me, “You might open a real closet and talk back to the skeleton and give him the what for. Then laugh at it as that’s even more sticking it to him. When he raises his ugly head just tell him no.”
She’s right. I have to face the skeleton of cancer and stand up to it. I have to fight back and not let it run my life. I have to look at those scars and say, “These scars are proof that even cancer can’t hold me down.” I am a survivor. I kicked cancer in the butt, and if it ever rears its head again, I will beat it again. Cancer, you can try to haunt me all you want, but I will always rise above you.
If you overcame cancer and are finding it hard to let the emotional scars and physical reminders go, tell yourself, “I won an awful battle and I will not let it haunt me.” The shadow of cancer or skeleton of cancer will try very hard to haunt you, but use all the strength in you to face it and tell it to go away. Life is short. Live life to the fullest. Enjoy each day you are a-live and be proud of the battle you won.
The skeleton of cancer keeps trying to haunt me and hold me down. I’m doing what my friend told me to do. I’m laughing at it, I’m talking back to it, and I’m telling it no. Because I won’t let the memory, the scars, and the fears control me, I stand tall within the light of recovery.