In life it has been said that there are truly no absolutes. With time, all things change, nothing is forever the same. It is an outlook filled both with prospects of hope and dread but singular in its certainty. “Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes”, said Hugh Prather, author, lay minister, and counselor.
No one ever wants to be told they have cancer. The emotions of that moment cannot be fully understood until you have experienced it. For those born decades ago when such news brought little more than a prognosis of certain death, the diagnosis can elicit strong emotions of remorse, anger and depression. The lifetime probability of being diagnosed with cancer is 39.7% for men and 37.6% for women. “There is no denying that cancer is devastating news, but it does not mean your life is over. Millions of people cope with cancer every day. You are not alone.”
For Catherine, in 1999 and at age 31, life was good. Married with a good career, her life appeared to be tracking in a mostly positive direction. An examination to ferret out an explanation for a few minor health problems brought news that her life was about to change forever. Triple negative breast cancer wasn’t even known in 1999. The only certainty after the news was she needed chemotherapy as well as surgery and radiation to stem the progress of the disease. “My memories of that period in my life are that of anxiety underpinning and coloring everything I said and did,” says Catherine. “I was at a very low ebb at this stage and my family weren’t sure how we could overcome this, as all of us were flailing around trying to make sense of this terrible period in our lives.”
Planning a normal future beyond the cancer diagnosis is pre-empted by the promise of months or even years of invasive treatments, drug protocols, clinical trials and the accompanying continuing life-maintenance issues. Taking out the trash, mowing the lawn and getting the kids to soccer practice suddenly takes on a different perspective and position in life’s scale of importance. However, planning for and visualizing a future can be the very act that can assure and expedite recovery. After fourteen years, Catherine received news that her cancer was out of remission.
“I figured that this must be the beginning of the end as I was lucky to get nearly fourteen years remission. This time around, I was told my tumor was triple negative breast cancer. I was horrified and terrified on reading the statistics. I could not think past a month at a time, and holidays and family events were all abstract events. Again my mind went into a tailspin as I tried to deal with my worst fear. I then realized I probably had triple negative breast cancer before but didn’t realize how aggressive it was back in 1999 and I survived. What is not to say that this can happen again?” She is approaching her 50th birthday and no longer thinks of the future. “I have opened myself to all possibilities and am letting life happen. One of my goals was to start blogging once I felt well again and hopefully bring hope to some of my fellow triple negative breast cancer survivors.”
As a teenager in 2015, Chandler Bankos was diagnosed with advanced, stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. An athletic and seemingly healthy seventeen year old, Chandler’s news that he had cancer wasn’t made any easier by knowing that the most common age of diagnosis of this cancer is between 20 and 40 years of age. A positive and outgoing personality, Chandler found help and treatment at the Gettysburg Cancer Center in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. There he found experienced professionals who are dedicated to treating not only the science of his disease but the personal emotional conditions that often accompany a cancer diagnosis and regiment of treatment.
Chandler speaks of his year-long experience with cancer treatment. “If I had one thing to take away from this past year, it’s to never turn back and keep looking forward. To everyone who walked with me, fought with me, prayed for me and supported me, thank you. Today, I am officially done with everything pertaining to my fight. I completed my final surgery and I am proud to say: I am clear, I am healthy and I am moving on. I can now focus on living my life and enjoying everything it gives me. Life can be short, life can throw you around,but it all depends on how you take those negatives, and build yourself up.”
For Catherine and Chandler, cancer diagnosis didn’t mean their lives were over. Through all the pain of treatment and the turmoil it brought, they moved forward in their belief that a new life of joy and accomplishment was just beyond the struggle against their disease.