Will cancer haunt you forever?

Jennifer Palmer Enfield, ca. 1995


Like the ghosts in the closet or the ghouls under the bed at night in the dark during your childhood. Ever still wonder if you shouldn’t look just to make sure?

You will feel for a long time that cancer is ever presently luring.

After an extended remission, you’ll call yourself cured. Then, even then, on certain days, in some moments, just when you feel for certain that having cancer was only a bad dream will you be reminded of its horror. “The horror, the horror.” Like any memory, in time, the memory of having cancer will grow dimmer. Less real.

There is life after cancer, just as there is life during the “having of cancer.” And yes, it is somewhat different than your life might have been had you not been sick.

When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s at age 17, my mother told me that . . . “For each of us, life presents a hat filled with slips of paper. On each piece of paper are written experiences. You get to reach into the hat and pick a handful of experiences. You don’t know what you are going to get before hand. You don’t know ahead of time how you will react. And your experiences will be unique to you. In each handful of experiences will be good ones and difficult ones. But they will be yours alone.” In my hand was a happy childhood, loving parents, intelligence, good looks, and many other wondrous experiences. And cancer. “You have cancer.” My mother told me. This was how she told me. And she continued, “Other people will get their handfuls of experiences and in them will find death in an auto accident, murder, rape, incest, loss of a child, cerebral palsy, a child with downs syndrome, living through war (Holocaust or Bosnia), a life torn apart by divorce, loss of limbs or sight, etc., etc. Now knowing that you have cancer would you trade you affliction for theirs? The bottom line is that every one gets something.” And now that I know that I can survive and handle cancer, would I trade it for something else?

And my father, he likes to remind me of the following, “Each of us would like a life with out bad times, without difficult times. Enjoy and make the most of the good times. As you can be sure the bad times most certainly will come.”

Maintaining your positive attitude will help. But as I have learned in the past 14 years (and am still learning), there will be grey days.

Will you ever feel “totally normal” again? I suppose that depends on your definition. Is it normal to have catastrophic experiences in one’s lifetime? It certainly seems to since every day we hear of devastating natural and man-made disasters that affect other people’s lives. Facing up to the fact that catastrophic events happen to everyone and not just to the fact that catastrophic event happen to everyone and not just to “other people” and that this includes yourself will make it easier to feel normal. The “norm” is that shit happens. Maybe before you weren’t normal. Now you are. Welcome to an exclusive club!

I think that is part of what is difficult about all tis. The other part and I suspect that what you are really asking . . . and what no one really wants to address here on this message board (or anywhere else, for that matter) is the eventuality of your own death. And living with that fear.

Yes. You will die. Someday. Yeah, yeah, you guessed, “we all die someday.”

Is it ever easy to face the imminence of one’s own death? Is it harder to face at 17 or 26 than at 70 or 80? Is it less frightening to think about dying if you have lived enough years to qualify as having lived out a natural life span? Well, perhaps you don’t feel as cheated.

If what you (and all of us) really want to know is will you be afraid of your own death forever?


But most days you will be more concerned with paying the rent, your love life, the car, and your plans for next Saturday night.

I’m 31 now. 14 years ago I had cancer (Hodgkin’s). I am healthy today. And on most days I don’t think about my Hodgkin’s. Most of the time I feel normal. But I have battle scars, physical and emotional. And I now know that this is normal.

I try to live my life as well as I can. I try to remember that life is fleeting.

The difference between my life and someone who has not faced their own death and attempted to come to terms with it is this: That I know more fully that my life will end eventually and thus I live accordingly, fully and with quality. And they (other) often do not.