And what if you get a second cancer? Does the time clock start over?
These are questions I've pondered with my friends. And I think we've determined that our survivorship began when we had surgery. I know my doctors considered me a survivor after that day.
But when can you consider yourself cancer-free? Or in remission? After 5 years? 10 years? And what constitutes a long-term survivor?
Honestly, is anyone ever truly "cancer-free"?
(I just discovered an amazing article that discusses all these questions: When Can I Say I Am a Breast Cancer Survivor?)
On February 20, 2014, the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis, I celebrated tentatively with a post called One Year In. I was happy, but still nervous. I couldn't wait to get to the five-year mark, at which point I thought I would really feel like a survivor. And then I'd be halfway to the ten-year mark when I figured I'd be home free.
Looking back, reading that post, I'm struck with the realization that I still celebrate my "cancerversary" the same way. I rejoice that I have another year post-cancer under my belt. I ruminate on the ways that my life is different now because of facing cancer. And I wonder how long I still have.
Today, I'm celebrating six years since my first surgery. It feels really good to be over halfway to ten!
And yet, I know full well that cancer could rear its ugly head again at any time. It already did, almost 3 years ago. And what did that second cancer (NOT a metastasis) do to my survival status? My doctors have said over and over that those tiny tumors (yes, they found yet a third cancer in the cross-section of my lumpectomy) are not even worth worrying about. According to them, my triple-negative cancer 6 years ago was "the big one," and my survivorship keeps counting from that day.
But I can tell you that I also celebrate the years since my second cancer, and will be thrilled when I'm ten years out from that date, too.
There's nothing like a life-threatening illness to make you feel like you're living on borrowed time. But . . . we're all living on borrowed time. The illness is just a reminder.
I recently told another survivor friend who is awaiting more tests: we know Who holds the future, and we know Who holds our hand¹ . . . but we can't help holding our breath while we wait.
However . . . here's another truth: God even holds our breath! In ancient Babylon, the Jewish official Daniel reminded King Belshazzer of "the God in whose hand is your breath."²
I find that super comforting. I don't have to hold my breath ~ because God does! I will keep breathing, surviving whatever comes my way, "all the days of my appointed time."³
However long my life may be,
He holds the schedule in His hand
And doles my days out graciously.
I trust His perfect plan.
¹"I Know Who Holds the Future," by Alfred B. Smith
²The Bible, Daniel 5:23 (ESV)
³The Bible, Job 14:14 (KJV)