I'm a cancer survivor.
I don't talk about it very often, but I am. In December 2010, just a few weeks shy of Christmas, I was told that I had testicular cancer, and would be beginning a nine week course of chemotherapy early in the New Year. Those few weeks changed my life, both for the better and for the worse.
So reading that by 2020, a scant seven years from now, almost half of the people living in this country will suffer from cancer at some point in their lifetime unsettled and upset me. I wouldn't wish that experience on anyone, not even my worst enemy, and the fact that most of those people will survive isn't much of a comfort.
But what really caught my eye about the article was the fact that it used the word "survive". They won't recover from cancer. They will survive it. I know that it was meant in the sense that they won't die from it, but it struck me in a completely different way. From my perspective you don't recover from cancer. You simply survive it if you are lucky.
To pull out an exhausted military metaphor, having cancer is like fighting a war. It takes all your energy, all your time, all your focus. It takes everything you have and offers nothing in return. It wounds you and leaves you with scars, some physical and obvious, some not so much. And if you are lucky, if you are very, very lucky, sometimes you get to walk away at the end and say that you have survived it. You come through the other side, but you are not, and never will be, the same person you were before. And cancer will never leave you, it will always be there in the background, haunting everything you are and everything you do.
I know it has affected me. I still dread my regular outpatients appointments, even though I know I have nothing to fear now, and I still wince every time I hear mention of someone else getting cancer, both because I know how it feels and because I know that but for the grace of God it could be me again. Cancer is something that, once you have it, stays with you, silent but always present.
To borrow a quote from the TV show Firefly, "No one leaves Serenity Valley. They just learn to live there." Similarly you only ever recover from cancer physically. But the other than that, you just have to learn to live with it. You don't just wake up the day after you final chemo and think "I am now done with cancer." You wake up the day after you final chemo session and think "This is day one PC. Post cancer." It changes your life forever, and the best you can do is not let it overwhelm you or take over your life.
My name is William Davie. And I am a cancer survivor.