It’s hard to believe that one year ago I was harboring this ticking time bomb called colorectal cancer. I look at photos from last year, and I see a happy woman enjoying life, living life without any symptoms. I can’t believe the contrast between then and now. Today, my body is healthier and my primary tumor is gone, yet I am fatigued. I am weak. Last year, I was strong, but my tumor was growing, invading places I never expected.
I am thankful I found that huge hard spot in my abdomen that literally felt like a heel in my GI tract. My tumor grew into my omemtum, the metabolic fat pad that lines your internal organs. I found it three days after my birthday, before single tumor cells traveled through my bloodstream and lymphatic system to metastasize in my liver, but after they had invaded one nearby lymph node. These facts about my tumor are hard to accept, as it is virtually unknown whether or not any cancer cells remain that will later colonize my liver, my lungs.
As I approach the end of my treatment, I will have another dreaded CT scan and CEA marker analysis to see my progress. Is my liver still clear? Is my CEA marker still within normal range? How am I going to deal with getting tested every three months, waiting to hear the results and knowing there’s not one thing I can do to make them better. I live now with a great deal of uncertainty. How do I learn to live with this? To thrive despite not knowing what will happen in 3 months, 9 months, 2 years, 10 years? How do I hope for the best and plan for the worst? I find myself feeling uncomfortable with this understanding, with this knowledge. One thing I can do is have my yearly screenings to hopefully find new primary tumors quickly. That should help with new cancers that arise.
What I fear the most is developing metastatic colorectal cancer. I ask myself questions: Would it would be worth it to go through another round of chemotherapy and surgery? What do I want my life to look like? Is surviving enough? Would I rather spend the time I have left snorkeling in Hawaii? Why am I concerned about that right now? Why are these thoughts creeping into my head? What can I do to stem these discussions with myself and get back to living? How can I make the most of the time I have, whether that be 3 months or 30 years? What have I learned from this diagnosis? What can I take away? How can I change my life to ensure that I’m living the best life I can?
Changing the questions brought me a tiny sliver of peace. I don’t have to know the answers now, but I can make the most of this life. I can learn to reframe the uncomfortable questions into actions.