The third option.
A fellow cancer fighter, the badass Kaylin Andres, wrote recently in the Huffington Post about her ongoing battle with cancer. Her perspective really resonated with me, now more than ever. She said,
“… you start to let go of the prevailing popular opinion that cancer is a battle with only two outcomes — cure or death. There is a third, secret option, relatively unknown to the general healthy public: you learn to live with it.”
Now, if someone had told me when I was first diagnosed with cancer that I’d just “have to learn to live with it”, I would have said fuck that. No way. I want it out and gone. I would have said that anything else is simply unacceptable.
However, the truth is that sometimes we have no choice but to accept the unacceptable. Because sometimes what we once thought of as unacceptable is simply reality.
A few months ago, when I first got the news that there were some “worrisome” spots and nodules on my CT scans, my oncologist told me that some people would rather hear “concrete bad news with a plan” than ambiguous news. I told her I am not one of those people. Ambiguous news leaves room for hope, you see, whereas concrete bad news is just plain ‘ol bad news.
I’m always going to take the hope option.
When I was still in treatment and would hear people talk about how they still have questionable spots that are being watched, I thought, “How awful. I could never do that.” Well now, having had repeated scans showing questionable spots, I get it. We live with the unknown because sometimes — usually — we have no choice. It kind of goes back to the old Serenity Prayer, which, regardless of your beliefs, remains tried and true. We don’t sit on our hands. We change the things we can, but we learn to accept the things we can’t.
I have certainly done what I could to evict all traces of cancer from my body. I’ve followed the advice of an amazing, well-respected oncologist. I’ve subjected myself to surgeries and aggressive drug therapy. I’ve combined those traditional remedies with holistic remedies and lifestyle changes. And I’ll continue to run to ground every option available to me, until there are no more options. But if that doesn’t do the trick, I will have no choice but to accept that cancer and I are just going to have to cohabitate.
As with the previous set of tests, my last round of tests was inconclusive. My spots (if we’re going to continue to share a body, I may just have to name them) are still there but they haven’t grown. And my CA-125 levels are still slightly elevated, but they haven’t spiked. My doctor still puts at 50/50 the odds that these factors are representative of a recurrence of cancer. So we continue to wait, and go through the whole exercise again in about six weeks.
If these spots continue to behave and show no signs of growth, and my CA-125 levels remain stable, my oncologist will eventually tell me that these conditions are simply my new normal. And I’ll accept that. In fact, I’ll happily accept those conditions because they are so much better than the alternative.
It’s all about perspective.
And I guess that’s true of most any situation. Our perspectives change and our attitudes adjust when we realize there are circumstances we simply can’t control. And who are we kidding? We really aren’t in control of much of anything, are we?
So while we wait, I’ll still be visualizing fluffy pink disease-free insides. But I’ll also be working on letting go, and acceptance. My guess is that’s where I’ll find that elusive peace of mind.
Image via Brooke Kelly.