I’ve been talking a lot about how the days of remission aren’t as easy as they seem, and how they can be just as confusing as the days of treatment.
By: Robin Harry
“Congratulations, you’re in remission! Go on, live your life!”
These are the words that every young adult cancer patient longs to hear when they’re done treatment, whether it is after chemotherapy, radiation or surgery. We all want to hear that the hard part is done, that our bodies are on the path to recovery. I am currently two months into my remission from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, 29 years old, and I am incredibly, tremendously thankful to be alive. Now, I expected remission to be physically trying and worrisome with respect to future recurrences, treatment side-effects, etc. What surprised me was that life in remission is just as confusing and emotionally trying as life during treatment, though in different ways. Presently, I find myself in a bit of a remission-induced existential crisis.
Everyone assumes that my life has changed, and they’re not completely wrong. My perspective has changed, my confidence is greater. I’m rocking a new short haircut. My faith in God is stronger. I’ve finally embraced my inner superhero-loving nerd. What I’ve realized, though, is that all these changes are centred around me, not the people or things that surround me. I’m the one that’s different, not life in general. But shouldn’t life be different? Isn’t that the idea…face death and life is never the same?
During treatment, my sole goal was to survive, and to do so with faith, grace and dignity. In remission, however, the goal is to live. Right now, I’m a bit clueless as to how to do so. The why’s, when’s, who’s, what’s and how’s of life suddenly became magnified after being told that I was in remission, and I have no answers at all. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem; I’m a big “all-will-be-revealed-in-time” believer. The problem is that I find myself wary of stepping out of my pre-cancer comfort zone, not wanting to take chances just for the heck of it. Yet I’m petrified that if I don’t, life will be exactly what it was before, making the whole cancer ordeal futile and utterly meaningless.
It’s an isolating feeling. For one, most people will not understand this. The idea that I feel anything else besides unadulterated gratitude is just bizarre to those who haven’t been where I’ve been. “You’re in remission; you must be on cloud ninety-nine!!” Secondly, even if they could sympathize, that’s where it ends. I can’t ask them to figure this out with me. “Hey friend, I have a new lease on life and I’ve embraced my inner nerd. Let’s go to Comic-Con!” Riiiiight. The simple truth is that I’m doing this part all alone.
As stupendously fantastic as it is to be in remission, and while it is inarguably easier than treatment, it has its challenges. After an ordeal like cancer, getting back to life first requires figuring out what I want that life to be. I may eventually realize that the changes within me are enough. I may decide to take risks. It’s a very intimidating and personal journey. Ultimately, though, it’s a journey I’m glad I have the chance to make.