Just over two years ago, four months after finding No Evidence of Disease (NED), the cancer was back. While this was hard to hear, we felt that it was found early and once again I could have NED. That wasn't the case. Because of my BRCA mutation, and the fact that it was found so quickly, my oncologist termed my cancer as platinum resistant, recurrent, and incurable. We were now looking at quality of life issues rather than quantity of life issues.
Just recently I heard a term that is much more tolerable than incurable. Chronic cancer was the term I heard. Incurable, at least for me at first, gave me the thought that I was going to die very soon. But that wasn't the case. Chronic means that it is ongoing and can be treated, even if it isn't cured. Chronic means that there are options out there that can help you keep your cancer at bay. Chronic means that you can live a full life, even if it isn't as easy as before you had cancer. There are many chronic diseases out there like diabetes, arthritis and fibromyalgia. Cancer can be one of them.
So what do you do if you find out your cancer is chronic? For each person it is different. Some people, like me, will rely on their oncologist and team to give them the best course of action. Others will do lots of research finding different methods of treatment or lifestyles (diets, naturopaths) to change their treatment or help their treatment. Others might just choose to stop treatment depending on their age, how long they've been battling, or just knowing they can't handle any more treatment. That is what my mom decided to do when she was battling ovarian cancer. There is no one right answer for everyone. It has to be what is right for you.
There are some things, however, that I think everyone can do when faced with chronic cancer.
- Give yourself the right to be sad at times. We so often hear that we need to stay positive and strong to beat this, we feel like breaking down isn't either of those things. It's OK to be sad. It's OK to be scared. However, if you feel sad all the time, you might have a chemical imbalance or a vitamin deficiency. I have been on a calming medication that works for me. Talk to a doctor or psychiatrist for help.
- Find an eating plan that is right for you. Dealing with cancer long-term means your body is going to go through lots of changes. One that happened to me recently was that all of the sudden I became lactose intolerant. I have many digestive issues so I'm trying to keep up with my fiber intake and need to take a daily dose of Miralax. I also need to keep up on my protein intake because of the chemo I am now on, because that just makes me feel better. It's a juggling act, and at times I feel like I'm always learning something new, but it's something that you can do. Once again, make sure you talk about any diet changes with your oncologist.
- Get exercise when you can. When I first started battling cancer, I was able to do lots of walking. The more chemos I've been on, the harder it has become. Another reason is that I got very sick the beginning of this year due to fluid build-up and I couldn't spend much time out of bed. Even taking a shower put me down for a couple of hours. I've learned to walk either around the house or outside, depending on what is right for me that day. None of these walks are long. And, even though I get discouraged at times, I look back and remember where I was just a few short months ago. And sometimes exercise just means activity. I can do much more around the house than I was able to. That not only build up my body, but also my mental state.
- Rest when you need to. I think that is one of the hardest things for me because I was always such an active person. But once again, just like the previous point, I was very sick and I have to remember that my body needs rest. So I try and rest when my body tells me to. If I rest each time my body tells me to, then I'm not so tired the next day. If I don't, there is a good possibility that I will be super tired and not able to do much the next day.
- Look for the blessings in your life. Dealing with cancer is hard and at times we get so consumed with cancer we forget to look around us and see all that we have versus what we have lost through cancer. My palliative care nurse told me to find something tangible that gives me joy every day. She has flowers that she can smell and see every day and that gives her joy. My joy in general comes from my children. Once again, it will be different for everyone.
- This last one might seem strange, but it's one I've learned over three years of chronic cancer. Look for blessings that have come from your cancer. My children and I are much closer as we have gone through the ups and downs of cancer. My husband and I communicate better. I never knew how many people truly cared about me until cancer came into our lives. Would I want to have cancer if I had the choice? Absolutely not. But at the same time I wouldn't want to never see the blessings that have come through my cancer.