By Lyndsay McCaffery
When you find out you have cancer, your mind goes to a million different places. You have an endless amount of questions, an overwhelming sense of panic, and life as you know it is changed forever.
I was diagnosed with parosteal osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, right after I gave birth to my first child. In my case, I was told after an agonizing three months of testing that I did not need to have chemotherapy to treat my cancer. This was very good news, but I was looking at surgery instead — a long procedure that involved replacing bone and putting in metal. Not to mention removing the giant tumor on my femur. There would be months of limited mobility, pain management, physical therapy, and insomnia. But the worst part of the surgery was not being able to care for my five-month-old son.
I was stuck in this weird place of having cancer but not needing what people thought was the “normal” treatment. People kept telling me how lucky I was and how I should be grateful that my prognosis wasn’t worse. Don’t get me wrong, there were days where I felt all those things. But then there were days where I felt guilty, stressed, anxious and just angry. It was then that I began to understand that cancer comes in many forms with many outcomes. No one, no matter what diagnosis they face, ever wants to feel anything but supported and loved.
This whole issue really hit home for me a couple of years ago when my husband and I attended a conference at Dana-Farber. I was so used to playing down my cancer and making it seem like months of not walking was a better deal, and not being able to take care of my baby was acceptable because all I needed was surgery. That’s when I met a woman who said, “Oh… I would much prefer my chemo treatment over what you are going through.” The woman explained that while her treatments were unbearable and made her sick, she could still work, drive, and most importantly, take care of her children.
Some people have no idea that just a few choice words can change someone’s life; what this woman said validated me and made my cancer real. They gave me permission to be sad and angry. From that moment on I was able to allow myself to grieve in a different way. Her treatment was terrible and my treatment was terrible. We can all be sick and have different ways of getting better. At the end of the day, we all just want to be cancer-free. That is one thing about us that seems to be the same.
My cancer has come and gone. I have been in remission since my amazing surgeon took away my tumor three-and-a-half years ago. I have a wonderful husband and two incredible boys who remind me that life can go on in a beautiful way. Like everyone else, I go to my scans full of anxiety and dark thoughts, but I take a deep breath and tell myself it’s going to be okay. That’s the only choice I have.
I may not have needed chemotherapy, but my cancer was real. My two long scars gently remind me every day of the tears, agonizing pain, loneliness, and the endless support from the ones I loved. It is part of my story and it was ugly and it was beautiful. Chemo or no chemo, surgery or no surgery; we all have our own path to take but we are all on this journey together.