The 7 Year Cancer Survivor Itch

I try to write a little something about my thoughts as a cancer survivor at annual anniversaries or the ending of treatments. I don't really celebrate "all clears" anymore as I elected to stop having annual scans done, although I do need to have an annual "balltrasound" done, which I suppose is the only scan I'll get going forward. I wasn't compliant last year because I've become a "bad" non-compliant patient, but I'll get it done this year. 

Some related previous blogs: 

Five Years And A Day Since Cancer
Cancer Survivorship at Six Years
Top 5 Lessons Learned in Five Years of Cancer Survivorship

Life Moves On After Cancer

At 7 years out, I'm very lucky and blessed that I don't really have to think about cancer too much anymore. There's no reason that I have to, and I don't. Testicular Cancer is a cancer that you fight like hell and either beat completely within a few months or a year, or it very quickly takes you with it. Recurrences and clinically late recurrence are possible, but at 7 years out for someone that had "good risk" disease treated with both primary chemotherapy and the RPLND surgery which was elective in my case, it's far more likely that I'd develop another cancer or have some other health problem, than experience a recurrence of my testicular cancer from 7 years ago. My cancer fight seems like ancient history at this point - a tiny spec in the rear view mirror, and life has moved on.

Full Acceptance of Cancer

I'm not really afraid of cancer anymore because I fully accept that cancer can happen to anybody, at any time, and with no ability for myself or others to ever truly stop or prevent it. There's nothing wrong with me. I'm not cursed or "special" in any way, I'm merely a human being, and cancer is a part of our reality and humanity. Cancer has been around in human beings for far longer than I have, and it will still be around long after I'm gone. What happened to me could just as easily have happened to somebody else, and although it's sad, it's no longer even the least bit shocking or terrifying to me when I learn of friends or friends of friends that have been diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is reality.

Time Not Wasted

Fully accepting cancer into your reality, and realizing just how fleeting and finite our lives can be is what allows you to truly immerse yourself in every moment. It's what makes every moment spent with others that are near and dear to you so precious, because you never know what's next. When I see a friend that I might only see once or a few times per year, I know that it could be the last time I ever see them healthy or alive. It takes our life experiences to another level when moments become so much sweeter. No time has been wasted over these past 7 years, other than time lost to fear and worrying (and there was more than enough of that!). The best way to push back after cancer is to live in the moment and to live your best life every damned day that you have.

Living My Best Life Has Brought Me Peace

I still have my moments when my body is once again doing funny things or I have strange pains, but I'm less afraid of cancer now because of how much I've grown personally and spiritually, and because I know I've been living my best life. I've traveled to some amazing places, and have done some amazing things. I have a beautiful family, a beautiful wife, and some amazing friends that have really been there for me through the worst of times. I'm thankful for all of that, for the opportunity and blessing to still be here at all, and am proud of the difference that I've been able to make for so many other cancer survivors. When I've had scares and dark thoughts recently, I've had reassuring feelings that if this is my time that I've done well, and can rest easy because I have plenty to be proud of and haven't wasted my life away.

Other Things Happen in Life

Honestly, my wife and I have had much bigger problems to sort out in the past few years than my cancer fight ever presented. We don't like drama, drama just finds us, and all of that has been just as exhausting. We've lost family members and friends in tragic and unconscionable ways, have had numerous legal issues to sort out, and have had to take over the care of a disabled adult. We've both been extremely busy at our jobs, and we've both had some pretty serious issues with our workplace environments at times. I've also had to travel for work a lot more than I ever used to which has made managing the family schedule difficult if not impossible, and just for good measure we got a dog too, because our lives haven't been complicated enough. (It's a good thing he's a really awesome dog!!!!!) It's a damned good thing that I managed to settle everything relating to cancer in my mind when I did, because unbeknownst to me, other serious challenges in our lives were right around the corner.

The Goal Isn't To Be Happy

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I'll stop short of saying that I'm "happy" about my cancer diagnosis, because even after 7 years that still doesn't pass my sniff test. The wisdom of Emerson has taught me that perhaps it was the wrong target to be shooting for. I think that if you've faced cancer and can get to the point where it's no longer causing you any unhappiness, and if you've managed to do some honorable and compassionate things with it to make a difference for others while living the best life that you can for yourself regardless of happiness, that that's as much of a positive overall outcome as one could reasonably expect. I have a deep appreciation for my changed life perspective and for all of the personal growth that I've experienced as a cancer survivor, but I've also been terrified out of my mind and sitting in corners in tears more times than I care to remember, and will never again feel secure about my life. I think it's taken striving for and experiencing all of the positive aspects of life after cancer just to reach a neutral buoyancy point to balance out all of the negative. That's fine, and about as much closure as one should expect after cancer.

It's still unnerving that a part of my life story was having to cheat death at 33 when my kids were just turning 2 and 4 years old, but I've been able to walk away from it all as a much better person that I ever was before, it's no longer causing me any unhappiness, and I'm proud of that and in a much better place today. I wouldn't have things any different today, but I don't think I'll ever say that "getting cancer was a good thing", because it just plain wasn't. There's no such thing as a good or easy cancer period.


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One part life and another part fate have pulled me in different directions these days. I'll never be too far from the testicular cancer and young adult cancer communities and will consider myself an advocate for life, but it's nice to feel the closure that I need to move on and finally start chasing other dreams and aspirations of mine.

It's important to be able to find the closure after young adult cancer, because inevitably there's other things that we're going to have to face in life. Knowing that I had cancer as a younger adult and went through chemotherapy and a few nasty surgeries is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the young adult cancer experience is concerned. Behind these smiles are other 'icebergs' in our lives, other sources of pain, other stories, and other stories behind stories. I plan to start writing about all of these, and not necessarily in blog format, in the hopes that I can heal and move on from these in much the same way that writing helped me to move on from cancer, and perhaps it will in turn help others that have faced similar situations in life (you're never alone, no matter how isolated you might feel.)

What's Next

This isn't my last cancer blog. I actually have a half dozen or so draft cancer blogs on various topics that I intend to publish this year, some of which have been sitting around for ages, but beyond those I consider my cancer blogging to be a done deal. At over 70 blogs and 100,000 words at last count, it's been quite a ride. :-) Most of what I'll be publishing from here on out will be about cross sections of other aspects of our lives, and a whole lot more fun material as well to balance it all out. Never stop believing in yourself, and never stop living your best life no matter what it is that you're facing.

Steve Pake
Young Adult Cancer Class of 2011