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It's OK to Have Complicated Feelings About Your Cancer Being in Remission

My husband and I were seated in front of my oversized computer monitor waiting for another video visit with my new oncologist. I had just switched providers to get a second opinion, and this was my first meeting with him. Earlier, he had said I’d most likely need a stronger chemotherapy regimen, so my husband and I sat side by side. He had a notebook to write things down and my heart was pounding with anticipation.

But then, almost magically, the doctor came on and said those three words every cancer patient I know wants to hear. He explained what was found in my restaging process of biopsies and PET scans, then proceeded to tell me, “You’re in remission. Your cancer cells are sleeping. It will come back eventually, but for now, you no longer need treatment.”

Naturally, I clarified, “So, I don’t need any more chemo right now?”

He said I didn’t. And everyone around me was so overjoyed. My husband wanted to celebrate. My mom was ecstatic. My mother-in-law nearly cried. Yet I sat there feeling nothing but anxiety. I didn’t feel happy about it. Because if I wasn’t in active treatment for cancer, what curveball was coming next?

Throughout my diagnosis, my husband and I found solace in humorously calling my life “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” To be honest, I don’t remember what happened in the actual book series, but the title was fitting. My entire life has been trauma after trauma, so adding on medical trauma was just another checkmark off the list.

It was only a joke because we were serious, though. If I’m being honest, 2021 was one of the hardest years of my life. It started with multiple hospitalizations, then an intensive therapy program, then a cancer diagnosis, which meant that I couldn’t work my dream job when I graduated college due to the treatment. From start to finish, it’s been one whiplash after another. The entire year was spent mourning my health. And now, a doctor was telling me I was on the road to getting my health back. So, why wasn’t I happier about being in remission?

As my husband took me out to Olive Garden to celebrate, I found myself with clenched teeth, trying to find it in me to smile and be as carefree as he was. Still, I didn’t see how everyone else could be so elated. All this meant was that another curveball was coming to blindside me soon and this time I didn’t know what it was. I felt anxious and scared and had an enormous sense of dread. I had just gotten into a comfortable routine with the cancer thing. I didn’t have it in me to adjust to whatever terrible thing was coming next.

And on top of that, I felt bad about feeling bad. Everyone around me was happy, and there I was, being pessimistic and bringing the mood down. That created a lot of guilt, yet I couldn’t let my anxieties go because, in order to protect myself, I couldn’t be happy-go-lucky. I had to be guarded and anxious. Because if I wasn’t, the next unfortunate event would surprise me again, and I didn’t want any more surprises. I’ve had enough of those to last a lifetime.

Two weeks have passed since then, and it still feels odd. I’m not entirely anxious about being in remission anymore, but it’s rare that I’m boasting proudly about it. I’m still apprehensive, but I’ve also realized that being in remission is a blessing and I now get to go back to living my life again.

Even if that fact terrifies me, I still get to go back to living my life. I’m just hoping there won’t be any more bombshells to deal with as I do. But even if there are, I know I can handle it. I did handle cancer, after all. I’d just prefer to live a life free from sucker punches like getting diagnosed with cancer or being in the ER six times in a four-month timespan. I’m hoping I can find a new “normal” soon.

Getty image by The Good Brigade.

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