The election, my cancer and learning to live with uncertainty
November 9th, 2016, 1:38 a.m. Shock. Nausea. Fear. Anger. It was all there….again.
The nearly identical precursors — expert reassurances, statistical probabilities and diagnostic studies of an outcome highly likely to happen — and the reality becoming the exact opposite.
I time-travelled back to the PTSD Moment of Cancer.
The "where-were-you-when- the-plane-hit-the-Twin-Towers" moment, the memory etched permanently into my neurons such that a similar stress extracts it and pushes the play button on the instant replay.
August 9, 2012, 2:30 p.m. The surgical oncologist walked into the room at the follow-up appointment after my surgery, bantered about the beauty of his craft, an 8-inch Nike swoop across my bikini line and up the left side,accentuating the curve embodied by centuries of artists to define feminine sensuality.
The pregnant pause that delivered the disaster baby as he lowered his voice to a grave tone, averted his gaze and pronounced "It's malignant."
HOW? WHAT? IT WASN'T SUPPOSED TO BE THIS WAY!
You assured me, you promised me, you told me that from the appearance on the CT scan the lime-sized mass was "highly unlikely" to be cancerous. You poked and prodded deep into my belly and then pushed your finger into my thigh to demonstrate how the tumor felt soft and pliable just like my thigh tissue, but if it was cancerous it would be "as hard as this" as you smacked your hand on the examining table.
So I believed you, and because I and everyone important in my life so wanted and needed to believe you I stuffed any niggling doubt down deep and corked it tight with denial.
But you were wrong, oh so very wrong. It was sarcoma cancer. You told me not to worry, that the preliminary tests said it was a slow-growing, lazy type of sarcoma unlikely to be fatal.
A trip to one of the country's top cancer centers would tell me that it was an exceedingly rare, aggressive type highly likely to come back within a short period of time, so that I would undergo another massive surgery, likely many such surgeries, and if it did not respond to chemotherapy and could not be surgically removed I would have, at most, a year to live.
If it metastasized to my liver and/or lungs as it does in nearly a third of its victims, less than that.
I would have to learn to live with this, the uncertainty of the future, the fear of not having a future, the distrust and doubt from preoperative hype propelling my expectations and hope only to have them dashed all to hell.
I had not mentally prepared for this reality because of the improbability that this would be the reality.
Yes … all these eerily familiar feelings evoked by this election.
But for my cancer, unlike an election, there is no certainty that in four to eight years things will change.
Laurel Felsenfeld is a registered nurse care manager empowering families overwhelmed by the care of aging, ill or injured loved ones to navigate the health care system and become effective advocates. She is certified as a case manager and holistic cancer care educator and uses her 30 years of professional experience and personal cancer journey to mentor others living with cancer. She can be reached email@example.com. This guest column appears on Diagnosis: Cancer through our partnership with Inspire, an Arlington, Va., company with condition-specific online support communities for over 900,000 patients and caregivers.
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