Stage IV: What Do You Want to Do With This Time?
“You have to think about how you can make the best use of these next few months. Think of what your purpose will be.” My therapist said to me.
We were discussing positive ways I could refocus my energy and use this time. I was struggling with constantly looking back at the burning rubble of what used to be my life. Receiving a stage four cancer diagnosis derailed my plans for the future I thought I would have someday. And nearly two years later, I still couldn’t let go. But how could I? How does one accept knowing they have to live in a state of unknowingness? I went from being 30 and completely healthy to having a laundry list of medications and basing my future plans on scan results.
Back in March of this year, I had a huge decision to make: continue treatment or stop. I was just ending chemotherapy and about to begin radiation. But to be honest, I was completely hesitant about giving radiation a try. The physical and mental beatdown I felt on chemotherapy left me ready to stop everything. I was content with choosing quality over quantity. I spoke with the doctor who would be overseeing this four-session radiation treatment. He assured me this PRRT would be less symptomatic than my current oral chemotherapy regimen. He also said he believed this would work well for me based on my gallium scan. And despite my stage four high-grade diagnosis, he was astounded by my response to treatment thus far. He and my oncologist found me to be a very rare miraculous case.
Everything sounded like a dream come true. This is what I had previously hoped for. I longed for the day I didn’t have to throw up on a daily basis. I longed for the day I wasn’t stuck in bed for days at a time. Given the circumstances, I knew my old life wouldn’t come back, but I was ready for a reprieve.
But I still told the doctor I needed time to think about it. I’m sure he wasn’t used to that response from patients. I can almost guarantee that isn’t the kind of thing you hear from a cancer patient every day. Having the option to try a therapy that offers quality and quantity of life that doctors feel will work wonders for you, isn’t something you pass on. But here I was on the verge of turning it down. It isn’t lost on me that I am fortunate. I am profoundly aware that my physical health is in good standing despite my grave diagnosis.
So you’re probably asking: why wouldn’t I want to continue treatment? My answer: freedom. I was tired of being a prisoner to cancer. I was done living in a constant state of rage and sadness. It’s stifling. It’s draining. I hated that I woke up every morning, trying to salvage any piece of my old self that still existed. The mental anguish of stage four cancer is knowing you are stuck with this ball and chain for the rest of your life.
So let’s get back to why I was having this conversation with my therapist. After taking some time to think things over, I decided to give this radiation a try. Since I was supposedly going to have more time feeling well than unwell, I wanted to find something to do. Something that would make me feel somewhat whole again. I didn’t want to spend my days in bed crying. I knew I needed to find a sense of purpose this time around.
Over these past few months, I found some sense of purpose in the form of a beautiful gray fur baby named Harper. She is the Cane Corso puppy that stole my heart. Being her mom has made my days feel a lot brighter. In the moments when I find myself slipping into that dark space, I look into her big hazel eyes and find solace. I am reminded that while I cannot change my diagnosis, I can have some control over how I spend this time.
Stage four cancer is messy. It’s scary. There is a lot of uncertainty. You feel like you’ve lost all sense of control over your body and your mind. There is no easy, clear-cut way to navigate the peaks and valleys. Don’t put added pressure on yourself or force yourself to live up to any certain expectation (especially my AYA community). Feel all of the feelings you need to feel. Release it. All you can do is take it day by day. And if you can’t find a purpose for today, get up and try again tomorrow.