You’re Ok? Right?
It’s been almost 10 months since my debulking surgery and roughly 4 months since I finished frontline chemotherapy for my December diagnosis of Stage III Ovarian Cancer. I’ve been declared N.E.D. which means No Evidence of Disease. My hair is growing although I still don’t recognize myself when I look in the mirror. I’ve gained my weight back and then some. I’m exercising regularly though my stamina is 10% of what it was pre cancer treatment. I’m back to work full time. I’m appreciative beyond measure.
People say, “You look amazing!” And, “You’re ok, right?” I answer, “Thanks and yes.” And, yet, I feel like I’m hiding a dirty little secret. It started small and has grown over the past couple of months. I’m not “Ok”. At least not in the way people are asking. The “You’re Ok, right?” question is code for “The cancer is gone, right?”. As of now, the cancer is gone. That’s what No Evidence of Disease means. Love the qualifier. “As far as we can tell through our limitations of medical examination, we cannot detect any trace of the cancer.” That’s as good as it gets. This is where I get tripped up. This is as good as it gets in the world of cancer. It’s what every cancer patient wants to hear after completing treatment. I am happy. And, I am sad and scared and lonely and frustrated and confused and anxious and numb and….well, you get the idea. I’m all of these things. I’m definitely not ok.
So, what’s my definition of “ok”? That’s my million dollar question. To find my answer, I’ve embarked on a quest. Will I be ok if I face my fear of dying? I started with my local bookstore. “Death and Dying section please.”, I tell the friendly clerk. I follow her to the surprisingly small selection of books. Upon first glance I notice that most of the titles target comforting those who have lost a loved one. Hmmm, no market for those of us who are dying? Wait. Aren’t we all dying at some rate or another. Oh, yeah. Denial. Bummer. So, I buy the one book that I recognize, “How We Die” by Sherwin Nuland. It’s sitting on my nightstand, staring at me. Or am I staring at it?
I try to remind myself that I’m not “actively” dying just yet. “Focus on living”, I tell myself. Find women who have survived this diagnosis. I search the internet as I have done so many times before hoping that I find something new, something different. I feel like I’m mining for gold but in this case I’m mining for “hope”. I sift through pages and pages of personal blogs, ovarian cancer chat groups, and scientific journal articles. In my search for hope, I learned of another woman who died today of ovarian cancer. Her name was Leah. She was 38, married with two young sons. My heart sank. She had journaled about her experiences. I paused. Do I dare read her entries? I do. Was this what I was searching for? I’m not sure. But, it’s what I found and I’m ok with that.