For many of us cancer survivors, the five-year mark is a huge milestone. It’s believed that if you are in remission for five years, with no evidence of disease, that you can be considered “cured”. At least tentatively. Though it does happen, it’s rare for most cancers to return after so long. Many people no longer have to see their oncologist at this point and can put behind them ongoing treatments or scans.
Though the anniversary of your remission date will obviously vary from the anniversary date of your diagnosis, I think both days are valuable milestones. Honestly, after dealing with cancer unexpectedly during pregnancy at the supposedly healthy young age of 32, I think I deserve to celebrate any ridiculous milestone I like—hah—and hopefully you lovely folks agree with me. 😊
Well, I haven’t made it to the five-year mark yet, not even close, though some days it sure feels that way as we slog through the weird time warp that is the COVID era. However, today marks 2 ½ years from my diagnosis date, and that feels like a mini milestone to me. I was diagnosed on December 30th, 2019, the day I received the phone call that left me collapsing onto our kitchen floor in shock (and surprisingly not sending myself into early labor).
I’m at the halfway point to five years out from diagnosis. If my scans continue to come back clear and luck continues to stay on my side, I will be considered “cured” someday. Maybe this doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but when you first receive a cancer diagnosis in your thirties, the prevailing thought that fills your head is that you will run out of time and that you will no longer get to do the things that everyone takes for granted. You will no longer see your children graduate high school, or get married, or have kids of their own. You will no longer live long enough to retire or to take the trips you always thought you would, or to make the advancements in your career that you had always dreamed of accomplishing. Suddenly, your “someday” is gone, and you’re left scrambling to pick up the pieces of whatever days you do have and trying to make them fit together with whatever time you have left. It takes a while to escape that mindset, and to let yourself hope that you may still have a long and healthy future. In the meantime, each day is precious and beautiful in a way that you never realized before, and you slowly start to collect treasured memories that you might have overlooked had you not received a life-altering diagnosis at an age when you thought you were invincible.
Cancer survivorship walks hand in hand with anxiety. There are days when I’ll recall some key moment during treatment: the first visit with my oncologist after my son was born, when we had to bring a week-old infant into the Cancer Center; my first appointment during COVID times, where the technologist and I were the only people in the entire Cardiac Department, and my footsteps echoed through the silent, empty waiting room. These moments pop up unexpectedly, but I think I’m getting better. I think– and hope– that time is on my side, and each day puts more distance between myself and the monster that tried to kill me.
Yes, I’m still a way out from being “cured”. My five-year point from diagnosis will be December 30th, 2024 (yes, I’m using “will” and being positive). My five-year point for remission will be August 11, 2025. (August 11, 2020, was the date of my surgery where it was declared I no longer had evidence of disease and was officially “in remission”.) I will have an alternating MRI or mammogram for the rest of my life, long past the magical five-year mark. And I’m actually not sure how long I’ll have to see my oncologist for, but I like to think we’re becoming good friends, hah.
Regardless of how many more scans I still need to slog through, or how many more times my blood pressure will show a high reading because the clinic triggers my PTSD, I have made it this far. And I have good intentions of being here much longer: for my kids’ graduations and weddings; for my own grandchildren and retirement; for the trips my husband and I have planned to Asia and the Pacific; for my existing goals of teaching writing full time at a university and of being a traditionally published author; for my new goals of helping others who face cancer far before their time and for supporting research so that my stage four friends can be here for their goals, too; for my every “someday”.