Lately, I’ve seen a lot of people use the word ‘journey’ to describe dealing with cancer. A journey is a process, a path. It involves learning along the way. Although facing triple-negative inflammatory breast cancer seemed like a journey while processing my diagnosis, this word really doesn’t reflect the harsh reality of living or dying with cancer.
I’ve also heard a lot of people use the phrase ‘battling cancer.’ Yet, ‘battle’ suggests a finite process. And though they’re significant, battles are often small drops in something much greater.
What, then, should we call this experience? Is there even a word that fully sums up fighting against your own body for your life?
I vote that we call it war.
Why cancer is a war
War is serious. War is scary. War is a big deal. It shouldn’t to be entered into lightly. Winning demands leadership and clear, realistic goals. You need specialized personnel and adequate resources. War requires thinking big -- and a leader with a clear objective and direction.
But unlike leaders in military war, we cancer patients are ill-equipped, trained in the midst of a shocking diagnosis, and fighting the battle in the trenches of our own bodies. Yet we’re more dedicated than any other person. It’s our own lives for which we’re waging war.
It’s hard to lead when waging war against cancer. During my war against triple-negative inflammatory breast cancer, lack of sleep, pain and nausea have clouded my thoughts. Decreased energy has reduced my ability to act. It’s imperative, though, to lead your war.
Life changes with cancer
When I began my war against triple-negative inflammatory breast cancer in April 2015, my goal, my hope, was to speed through this hell as quickly as possible and return to my life as if nothing happened.
But I already see cancer changing me. In some areas, it has strengthened resolve; in others, it has softened harshness and deepened connections. Yet other areas have become darker. My goal is to no longer hastily force myself through cancer. Instead, I want to grow, to learn, to fully become the woman God created me to be, no matter the number of days I have left.
I also want to talk about it. All of it. The seriousness. The possibilities. The probabilities. The frustrating aspect of having triple negative inflammatory breast cancer, which is incurable, yet treatable. Let’s bring it all out into the open.
Physically, my goal is to achieve and retain a no evidence of disease (NED) status. This will require much work and loss. It means pain, nausea, exhaustion and chemobrain, not to mention the hair I’ve already lost. Yet, I press on towards becoming NED because the ultimate gain is time. I’m not ready to go. I look forward to getting old and wrinkled and sharing stories that no longer make sense.
Surround yourself with allies
To get there, I need help. I can’t fight this alone.
When you are at war, who you partner with matters. It literally could mean your life or your death. This may mean breaking ties with doctors, medical facilities or even those in your support system who aren’t supportive of your goal. (Remember, it is about you, not them. And definitely not their egos.)
This also applies to your community of support. Not everyone wants to help. Sometimes it’s best to emotionally remove such people from your life by setting up healthy boundaries.
Cancer, you can’t steal from me
War changes you. I already feel weathered by triple-negative inflammatory breast cancer. Each day I am seeing new effects of this war in my life. I’m now more focused, more direct. I am forceful in what I spend my time on.
Although cancer may shape my behaviors and views, it doesn’t dictate who I am. I refuse to let cancer steal me from me. I am determined to keep my sense of humor and zany thoughts, especially on my bad days.
It’s a messy war with leadership that doesn’t make sense, yet it’s the best system for this war. I am not battling cancer. I am not journeying through cancer. I am at war with cancer.