When You Can't Check It Off

I'm the kind of person who loves making lists. I love the feeling of completing a task, and checking it off. It's finished. I don't have to think about it again. I can become very one track minded in my quest to complete a goal. I do not like to rest until a project is finished in every way. 

Cancer is not like that. It is enormously frustrating not being able to check it off my list. When we began this journey, I was rooted in the "check off" mindset. PetScan? Check. Chemo? Check. Radiation? Check. Surgery? Check. In my quest to finish cancer (which is an insane statement), I allowed myself the opportunity to be disappointed and discouraged. 

There was a 20% chance that after surgery, Tommy could be completely cancer-free. The light at the end of the tunnel was visible! It was a small percentage, but I got my hopes up. We could be done! I wanted it for me, but I wanted it for Tommy more. He has been through so much- so much more than he should be going through at 26- and I was ready for him to be finished with it all. 

At our first follow up appointment post-surgery, they told us that of the 28 lymph nodes tested, one came back positive for cancerous cells. There was also a small amount of cancerous tissue found in the surrounding fat. It was a great report, but we were not done. I was devastated. We were exhausted, frustrated, and disappointed, but of course, ready to do whatever needed to be done next.

After this dark cloud passed over me, I reflected on why this news had hit me so hard. The surgery went extremely well. He had an incredible response to the treatment, and the doctors were very happy with the overall results so far. Why was the news of a few cells so crushing? Because it made me realize that this journey will never be fully completed. Yes, we may be able to eventually say he is NED (no evidence of disease, or in remission). We may eventually be able to say we have completed all treatment. But, we can never FULLY put this behind us.

I have to come to terms with the fact that I will never be able to check off this box. We will be tracking and wondering for the rest of our lives. We will forever have the permanent marks, the fears, and the what if's. We are changed, but we are stronger.

If you change your mindset, and no longer look for a finish line, life feels lighter. You have to find a new normal. Life is different, but it doesn't have to be heavy. I do not have to "complete cancer". I do not need a check mark to prove I am a good care taker and wife. I do not need a clean bill of health to live a fulfilling and happy life. Life has its chapters, and this one is stretching and molding me in ways I never could have imagined. Becoming grateful for the struggle is no easy task, but I'm sure it's one box I can eventually check off.

Jessica Walker