I have been feeling uneasy for some time now. I am not quite through treatment, but the end is certainly closer than ever - only three more FOLFOX treatment cycles to go. Unless there is another chemotherapy holiday in store for me, October 4th will be my final treatment date at the Grand River Regional Cancer Centre. That will be followed by a weekend of side-effects and then by the removal of the PICC line I have been sporting on my left arm since 13-Jun-2006. There will be continuing side effects for a few weeks or a few months, according to the medical oncologist. But the point remains - I am getting close to the end of cancer treatment.
There will be a followup process which, according to the guidelines of Cancer Care Ontario, will last approximately 6 years. The first 2 years will involve quarterly X-rays, physical exams, blood work, and possibly ultrasound tests. At the 3-year mark, I will undergo another colonscopy performed by my surgical oncologist, the person most familiar with how that part of my anatomy should look now. So, yes, there will be a fair amount of regular contact with oncologists and the GRRCC for quite some time.
But, I will no longer undergo cancer treatment unless there is a recurrence, which is really what the regular examinations are all about anyway. Recurrence of colorectal cancer is statiscally more than significant; it is quite high.
All of these concerns are not why I am feeling uneasy. What bothers me is the realization that I will soon enter another realm, that of the cancer survivor, and I am not prepared for what it will be like.
Some say that treatment is all about eliminating the disease, while recovery is all about healing the person. Maybe. But if so, I don't really know what to expect of the healing process. What it looks like from this side, though, is a very lonely process in which there is no longer a host of medical personnel attending to my condition. There are no apparent physical indicators of having been the victim of cancer. And there are no specific expectations about how to behave, about what to expect in the way of appropriate behaviour from other people, about how to live my life.
Where do I go from here?
The Lance Armstrong Foundation has published a book about cancer survivor stories - Live Strong: Inspirational Stories from Cancer Survivors-from Diagnosis to Treatment and Beyond. Those stories are helpful in a way, but everyone is so different that I'm still wondering about the nature of surviving and what will be most meaningful for me.
Today, I found and purchased a book which I hope will be even more helpful - Picking Up The Pieces: Moving Forward After Surviving Cancer. It's the first book which combines cancer survivor experiences with a recommended practical recovery process. Whatever resources I can find, I know that I will be facing yet another journey soon, one that is not so much unwanted (after all, survival is far superior to the alternative!) as uncertain.