I recently came to the realization that I may have no choice but to join the ranks of hundreds of thousands of cancer patients on this planet who don't fully beat cancer but don't die from it either. The patients who fall into the third option category.
The ones who just learn to live with it.
I remember in June 1994 when Pedro Zamora made his debut on the third season of MTV's The Real World (back when reality TV was relatively new and not nearly as ridiculously insipid and sensational as is often the case now) as one of the first openly gay and HIV-positive men to appear on national television. Pedro is credited for starting to change the perception of those with AIDS as not dying, but "living with AIDS."
It took billions of dollars, decades of research, leaps in medical science, and thousands of men and women stepping forward to unashamedly proclaim their HIV+ status for this notion of "living with AIDS" to become part of our psyche as a nation. Although there is still no cure for AIDS, there are drugs that can successfully slow the spread of HIV in the body. And hundreds of thousands in this country have successfully lived with the disease for ten or twenty years or more. It is no longer considered a death sentence (at least not in the US).
I feel like that's where we are headed with cancer. Although there may not be a definitive cure anytime in the near future, treatments are becoming more and more laser-focused, enabling oncologists to tailor treatment to the specific DNA of a patient's cancer. The hope is that we'll eventually be able to control cancer much like we are able to largely control diseases like diabetes, or illnesses like the flu. There are still no cures for these conditions, but people don't die from them in droves the way they did in the past.
So... how does one live knowing that there is a potentially terminal disease in one's body? A disease that could rear it's ugly head and start spreading in the blink of an eye?
I don't yet know. But when I figure it out, I'll tell you.
What I do know is this. All I can do is take it one day at a time, constantly trying to bring my thoughts back to center any time they start to stray into that dark "what if" territory.
Because the truth is that the future is uncertain for all of us. All we have is today. And if we spend the lion's share of our precious time worrying about things we cannot control, we're going to miss out on what's happening in the moment. And these moments are pretty great.
My daughter now runs toward me with arms outstretched, saying "mama". That's something I never thought I'd see. Every day brings new discoveries and fresh joy. These are the things on which I try to remain focused.
So if there's cancer still inside me? I'll just keep beating it down and keeping it in it's place until I have no more options. But I'm not going to let it run my life. Because then it wins.
Image via Brooke Kelly