Cancerversaries/Metaversaries

A pretty good definition of this rather elusive concept.

I’ve been living with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) for three (3) years and I confess to an awkward relationship with anniversaries now. Some dates of my treatment and the aftermath are seared into my memory and will never be forgotten. Others, I wish I could forget. All of them create a tsunami of ambivalent feelings. Outside of the anniversaries that deal directly with my diagnosis and treatment, regular celebrations of birthdays or holidays have also become fraught with greater meaning and gravitas.

I’ve wondered at times how best to explain this push/pull of celebration and sadness all mixed together during times that are intended to be all about the upsides of surviving and still being present. It’s been a struggle for me to identify these feelings myself since I’m still not great at that generally. I’ve tried to reflect on why and I’ve posted some about the various thoughts that dance across my mind.

Here’s a small glimpse into my tortured brain …

First, I’m happy that I’ve lived to see another milestone. Passing three (3) years of living with MBC was huge since the median life expectancy is 2-3 years. There’s a part of me that totally gets the jumping and screaming and crying and boa wearing and bell ringing at the end of treatment. I wish I could get into that, but …

Secondly, although, I’d calibrated my expectations and inner planning for that 2-3 years and now I’m in no-mans land. Each milestone means there’s another milestone coming and will I reach that one? Each milestone throws me back into the thought process of, what about next year …. and the year after that and the year after that …

Third, I love to celebrate birthdays and holidays and any kind of thing that involves bringing presents because I love giving gifts. My husband despairs of our credit card bill because those darn social media algorithms have me figured out and nearly everything I’m shown would be PERFECT for someone I know. And then, I start to wonder if I’ll be here next year for the next celebration …. and I need to buy a few more things … and I go down a bad path …

Fourth, this bad path can be seductive and sticky, kinda like quicksand. Once I get to this point, wallowing looks like a good use, no really the only use, of my time. I usually begin to think about when I’m gone and who will take my place and who will be a mother to my boys and which of the people who don’t like me will be talking negatively to my children about me and what will they think of me as they grow and on and on and on. This dark hole is hard to leave.

But I do. I escape, eventually.

And then I’m ready to do it all over again.

After three (3) years of this, I can say that I’ve gotten slightly better at getting out of the wallowing quicksand more quickly. I don’t have to go to bed and sleep for a few days to get through the emotional quagmire. I’m better at focusing in the moment, celebrating in the moment, and dealing with my feelings on my own in private. Yet, I still struggle to keep them at bay.

Days that should be all about celebrating and looking forward, etc., will always have the shadow of a dark cloud hanging over them. Maybe this is what people mean when they say “new normal” or as I saw recently the “new abnormal.” I have no idea what normal is anyway, do you?

Nothing about this new way of living feels normal, except when I’m talking to another person living with this same disease. Then, nearly everything is the same and there is a meeting of the minds, a kismet like no other. It is inside the metastatic community that what I’m experiencing seems “normal” seems similar and that’s where I find comfort and camaraderie and belonging.

12 thoughts on “Cancerversaries/Metaversaries

  1. I use them to celebrate living – we all handle things differently, but I find this helps me cope. Just had my 10-year cancerversary of my diagnosis and many other events (the dates are imprinted in my mind) are coming up too (surgery, other therapy started, etc).

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  2. My husband recently told me “you are the strongest woman I know.” The context was a volatile and downright scary situation we are walking through with one of our adult daughters. My inner response to his comment was 1) you don’t know how very fragile I feel and 2) you don’t know my friend Abigail.
    What I’m learning is that we don’t have to FEEL strong to BE strong for someone else. And that is because true strength comes from God, and the supply of His strength is endless.
    You, Abigail, are the strongest woman I know. I ask Almighty God to continue to strengthen you moment by moment, day by day, milestone by milestone.
    I love you, my friend. ❤️

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  3. This is true for me too…. I try to live in the moment and feel the joy. Not easy, but I too have improved with time. Maybe if I have enough time, I’ll be able to stop worrying about next year! Next month will be 6 years with TNBC for me.

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    1. Good for you on 11 years of remission. Despite the expanded definition to include those of us who are stage IV in the label, “survivor,” I do not believe it applies to me. Cancer will never be over for me. I will have cancer until it murders me.

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  4. This is so honest. I am the partner of a metastatic cancer patient, not the patient himself, but so much of this is true for me too. We are awaiting yet another biopsy result, one that might kick him out of the trial he is in, which is working really well. It is always two steps forward, one step back — or the reverse of that! This is such a different universe than the original cancer, where one could think — “OK let’s kick its ass and then move on.” Once you are metastatic, i.e. chronic, “moving on” takes a very different meaning doesn’t it! Keep writing, you are such a gift to all who get to share your “tortured brain!”

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