Today marks another time, in my career as a cancer warrior, that I realized how much words hurt. I write this to inform and open the eyes of medical professionals and, honestly, everyone.
I am in my fourth year of surviving stage 4 lung cancer. I live this every day. Every morning, I wake up and take my pill, which is the reason I’m here. Do I know how “lucky” I am? Yes. Every. Single. Day. I actually had to explain this to a doctor because he felt he needed to remind me. He also felt he needed to remind me that I’m still alive. His words, “I can’t believe you’re still here.”, haunt me. Many say they shouldn’t. They do.
I wish I could say that this is an isolated incident. It isn’t. A very trusted doctor once said, almost verbatim, the same crushing words to me a couple of years ago. I remember walking out of her office in tears and with a renewed sense of terror. Ironically, one month later, a small spot was found on my lung. Thankfully, it required a small bout of radiation to clear it up. But the words haunt me to this day.
“I can’t believe you’re still here!” “I hope you know how lucky you are!” And my all-time favorite, “Usually by now, the treatment stops working.” Please know, when someone says any of the aforementioned, we, cancer survivors, fighters, warriors, are broken-hearted. Our daily duty is to fight this damn disease. We fight our own demons to stay positive and believe we will beat this.
You see, we do not need reminders of our status. We do not need to be told to value each day. We know how “lucky” we are. We also know how “unlucky” others have been. Like many, I cherish every day and cherish my time with my loved ones. Sometimes I get scared. Sometimes. Other times, I’m untouchable. Even on my untouchable days, hearing words of disbelief that I’m still here are mind-blowing. It breaks me down, just a little.
I don’t stay down long. I’ve learned the key to this cancer masquerade is to be my own champion. To believe in myself and my oncologist. To hold my loved ones close and live my life with all its beauty and ugliness. To laugh. To cry. To recognize the love and life that surrounds me.
So, to anyone who may think otherwise, yes, I really do know how lucky I am. I really do value each day. But am I surprised I’m still here? No. I am not surprised. I am a warrior.