I didn’t always know how to talk cancer. When I went to a survivors luncheon just two days after my diagnosis in 2006 —or was it one?—the words were like rocks in my mouth, funny tasting, awkward and some had sharp edges.
“The way they were talking so openly about it — like you would a migraine or bladder infection — clashed with my current state of shock. I could barely utter the words “I have cancer” let alone talk about its characteristics or plans for treatment. I was still reeling, still raw.” — excerpt from I Don’t Wanna Be Pink
I can talk about it now. I’m honored to do so if it will help others, and comfortable when it’s within the context of my book, such as in my recent interview on Good Grief with Cheryl Jones, on my blog, via social media, or in my journal. That is to say, when I can prepare, when it’s in my control. Otherwise, I typically don’t. Does this mean I haven’t struck peace with having had cancer, after all these years and with a good prognosis? Yeah, no. And I don’t really want to be at peace with cancer, because it’s cancer. Accept it, process it, yes. But it’s still loaded with uncertainty, still drums up bad feelings, still a life-threatening disease. If you have a risk or history of disease, or any adversity, you can probably relate.
Most of the time, life is full and undefined by cancer, and my gratitude is deep. But today, I’ll talk about cancer. Today I see an oncologist, my first in Denver, for an annual checkup. I’ll be “facing the dragon,” as my friends would say, reviewing the cold hard facts with a new doctor, making sure everything is right.
Among my questions will be:
- Whether I should go back on tamoxifen for another five years, as studies have shown it to be beneficial for women who had early-state ER/PR positive cancer.
- Whether I need to bump up my next colonoscopy from 5 years, in light of my Mom’s colon cancer.
- Whether I should up my Vitamin D supplements/exposure. Like a lot of people, I’ve had low levels, which may be associated with cancer risk.
And I suspect there will be a blood draw for a tumor marker and a manual breast exam.
I didn’t always know how to talk about cancer. I can now. And I’ll report back about today’s appointment. But just so you know, if you want to talk about something else, Mad Men, Machu Picchu, anything with sea salt, dark chocolate and caramel, I like to do that too.
Do you have a risk or history of disease? If you’re several years out, do you still get uncomfortable going in for a check up? Share your thoughts in comments. Thank you for reading.