The author on winning day by day
Since I started writing this column, I’ve been cheered and inspired by letters from readers. They come from as far away as Perth, Australia and Ajijic, Mexico. They are full of kind wishes from people sharing their own stories.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard from a woman named Francilla. “I’m a 10-year pancreatic cancer survivor,” she wrote. She told me she has a great family, a job, and she appreciates every day of her life. “I just wanted to let you know there are some of us out there,” she said. That’s not an understatement. With a five-year survival rate of three to five per cent, pancreatic cancer patients celebrating this milestone don’t need a huge party room.
And it seems that every month brings a new milestone. Last month, I told you I finished treatment. This month, the tests confirmed I’m cancer-free. I’m now a one-year survivor, and that already puts me in some rarified company. Only approximately 15 per cent of patients make it this far. But it’s also making me change the way I think about myself.
I still don’t want to call myself a survivor, but the descriptor is accurate, and I will answer to it. If every day, month and year is an achievement, then that’s my new normal. After breast cancer, one of my doctors enthusiastically told me I was “cured.” This time, I’ll have to settle for “no evidence of metastatic disease.” As one of my current physicians put it, “I’m afraid we never give written guarantees or smiley faces on the CAT scan reports. I know it’s tough.”
Some readers are helping me learn to live with this. Marie wrote, “Twenty-three years ago, I was told I had terminal cancer and had only weeks or months to live. Needless to say, I did not die and have received miraculous surgeries to enable me to ‘live well.’ It has been an amazing journey … I have been involved in various areas of mind-body connection and self-help.”
Another reader who had the same surgery I did five years ago told me he had to retire because of complications. “I am currently on CPP disability and, yes, it’s below the poverty wage — but I’m on the right side of the grass!”