By Lyndsay McCaffery
Two months. That’s how long I knew I had cancer before it was gone. I was a patient, and then a survivor, all before I had time to process what was happening to me.
It has been almost five years and I am still trying to wrap my head around it. I’m so relieved to be rid of this disease, this burden that took over me — but it’s not always easy on the other side. And I’m okay with that.
I was diagnosed with parosteal osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, in September 2012. After three months of testing, I underwent surgery that involved replacing bone and putting in metal, and of course, removing the giant tumor on my femur. I am proud to call myself a survivor; don’t get me wrong. But I feel like when you become one, you are supposed to have this strong, positive, never-look-back attitude all the time. For me, there are days when I feel like I just cannot keep up. I am reminded every day that I had cancer, and there is never a day that I don’t remember it and reflect on this part of my life in some way.
It should be enough that we survivors get up every day. We live without knowing if the disease will come back, or whether it will be worse if it does. We live filled with guilt, knowing that there are some of us who fought until their very last breath but didn’t pull through. We live grateful lives, yet we are still battling the physical and mental scars that our treatment left behind.
My post-cancer journey has been a blessed one. I am raising two little boys in a wonderful community with my husband. I have a job that I love, and I am surrounded by family and friends who nourish my soul in ways I never thought possible. But I am 33 years old, and I feel like I’m 83. I have had five surgeries in five years and I still don’t go a day without pain. There are days when I feel like the only reason I get up in the morning is because my children cannot take care of themselves. Some days, my knee pain is so bad that I want to have a glass of wine or two. There are even days where I feel like a burden on my loved ones.
The real test, however, is how I handle these moments.
First, I have to accept them. The cancer journey is a long and winding road, with ups and downs. I’ve been given lots of helpful advice over the years, but nothing stands out as much as my dad’s positive outlook on my situation. He always reminds me to take things one day at a time, and to try not to focus on what hasn’t happened yet. We all are guilty of doing this, I think — and it’s one of the hardest, most rewarding things to get ahold of in your life. Live in the moment as best you can, and let go of the fear of what can happen next.
The road doesn’t stop or disappear when the cancer goes away. In those hard moments, I take a deep breath, move one step forward, and somehow find my way to the other side. That’s all any of us can do, really. We don’t have a choice but to keep on going and find the beauty somewhere, somehow — even when the dark thoughts try to take over.
Life is a gift and even the toughest days are worth living. We need to choose to always recover, live on, and survive.
Lyndsay will sing God Bless America as part of the 16th annual WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon presented by Arbella Insurance Foundation, which will take place on August 15 and August 16, 2017 in support of Dana-Farber.
Learn more about coping with the emotional stress of cancer from the Psychosocial Oncology department at Dana-Farber.