After Cancer, Everything is a Scare. Aches and Pains Keep me on Pins and Needles.

Spoiler: I am okay!

However, once you’ve received a cancer diagnosis, every little ache and pain is suspect (in your mind) of being the thing that will do you in. I thought maybe I was being overly dramatic, but this is actually common among cancer survivors. Even though I’m in remission–possibly cured, and for all intents and purposes healthy, something like a nagging backache can sound alarms. So my back pain x3 months had me seriously concerned.

When I have random aches or pains, I do the self-talk: you’re getting older, you’ve been running, you lifted something, you slept in an odd position, but it never completely quiets the background noise (as my friend and fellow survivor John calls it) in my mind telling me this could be more than a backache. As much as cancer has changed my life, my perspective, for the better, there is still that constant wonder whether I’m cancer-free or have rogue cells traveling through my lymphatic system looking to set up shop.

After a few weeks of severe pain, I called my general doc who did an x-ray to rule out disc damage (especially since I’ve had a ruptured disc in my neck). Everything looked good. Some relief. I had a regularly-scheduled appointment with my oncologist two weeks later and left it at that. Calling her in a panic and being seen immediately would only have made the possibility more real. Remember how long I was in denial about the lump in my breast? Nearly two years.

So I popped into Dr. C’s telling her how great I feel as a 19-month survivor, except for some nagging back pain. Her face and her response snapped me right back to reality. Bone metastasis is most common after breast or prostate cancer, and especially within the first few years of remission. More sobering, it is usually not curable. It can be treated but not cured.

After many questions from my oncologist and a blood test, I was out the door and told they would call me with the results within a few days. Shaken and scared, my mind wouldn’t stop the what if loop. I thought about how my Mother should not have to survive the loss of a third daughter. For her to lose one child was horrible. A second was unfathomable. Losing a third would destroy her. To say my heart breaks for her is an understatement; I can’t properly put it into words.

I wondered who would love and take care of my dog [the same way I do] after I’m gone? Grace is my heart on four legs. How could I not come home one day, leaving her to wonder where I was and why did I leave her?

Grace is my copilot and my heart!
Grace is my copilot and my heart!
Grace and I see things like this gorgeous sunrise on our walks.
I get to see things like this gorgeous sunrise while walking my dog.

Something many of us struggle with: what have I done with my life? Have I done any good? Have I touched people in a positive way; have I helped anyone? For being allowed to live any length of time, the least we can do is leave this world in better shape than we found it. Until I get my carbon footprint to zero, save some animals, and feed some people…I mean really, what’s the point of having been here if I don’t do some good?

Lastly, do I have it right with God? Surprisingly, and maybe arrogantly, I feel the least anxiety about this one. I have faith, and I think I’m ok. We’ll see.

It’s scenarios like this–the back pain scare–that shed some light on why I live my life with a little more urgency now. For all I know my time is not ticking away any quicker than yours, but the realization that it could be has lit a fire. I was going to run a 5k in South Carolina this month, but had already signed up for a WordPress class because I’m intent on making my blog the best it can be. I bought a ukulele (another thing on my life list) and can’t wait to start lessons, except I’ve signed up for therapy dog classes with Grace first. There’s so much I want to do and potentially so little time in which to do it. Technically, that’s the case for everyone since none of us knows how or when we’ll cash in, but when you get that little wake-up call, you get moving.

My Life List. Lots to do!
My Life List. Lots to do!

But the lab results were good–my alkaline phosphatase level is normal. I’m still having back pain, so off to physical therapy I go. No idea what brought it on or why it’s lingering, which brings us back to getting older, running, lifted something, or slept funny. Of course, the possibility of something awful is still in the back of my mind. Although this scare turned out to be much ado about nothing, my mission to squelch the background noise, and to complete my list, continues.