Archives for October 2016

Dear Cancer Patient – Finishing Up

Dear Cancer Patient – Finishing Up

Dear Cancer Patient,

You probably thought this day would never come, but you’re finally finishing treatment. Well done!

You probably expected to feel only relief, but don’t be surprised if it’s mixed with a little anxiety. Treatment can become a kind of security blanket, a trusted shield against the cancer – and now it’s going away. Being on treatment made you feel safe, and now you feel unsafe.

But your treatment was meant to mop up the last traces of the cancer – nothing more, nothing less. You’re not really losing ongoing protection, you’re just losing the illusion of protection, just as you’ve been stripped of many illusions by this experience.

You’ll also probably want to ask me if it’s all really gone forever, if you’re “cancer free”, and what tests we’re going to do to find out. And I must tell you there is no possible way for us to know right now if you’re cured, or if you’re not. I wish there were. We can only know that we’ve done everything possible to cure you, and to secure your future cancer-free state. But we can’t know that future until it arrives. We’ll find out what that future is together, over time.

Can you still remember when you believed that cancer could never happen to you? It never entered your thoughts that those normal aches, pains, or energy lulls could be cancer – and of course they weren’t. But now, when those aches and pains come, cancer will cross your mind. Because you know now that such things are possible. You’ve lost the sense of safety you had before the cancer came, but that’s only because the idea of safety itself is an illusion – and it’s only the illusion that you’ve lost.

This is nothing to grieve, but it does take some getting used to. Living without illusions takes courage. Living without illusions is also known as wisdom, or so I’m told. I don’t know personally, because I’ve not had your experience yet. The only things I know about wisdom I’ve learned from you, and those who came before you.

It’s almost time for you to go, and I’d like to send you off with some impossible advice: take this experience and make it part of your identity, let it be written into your lines and verses; and also try to forget about it as soon as possible – it looms too large in your mind right now, and after all it’s only a few verses in a very long song.

I’ll be here if ever and whenever you need me. But right now I’m going to walk you to the door because it’s time.

Go now, and live.


Your Devoted Oncologist