Life After Cancer: A Tougher Battle?
A friend of mine recently completed chemotherapy. She is now cancer free, and her doctors say that her long-term outlook is excellent. But she can't seem to accept her good fortune and says that surviving is more difficult than fighting cancer. I don't understand this, and I don't know how to help. Any suggestions?
Believe it or not, many people find that surviving cancer is almost as traumatic as learning they have the disease. I recently finished reading an excellent book that deals with this subject, and you might consider giving it to your friend. The book is "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life," by Lance Armstrong (Putnam, 2000). You may remember Armstrong's inspiring story -- he's the cyclist who won the 2,290-mile Tour de France race in 1999 after overcoming even more daunting odds posed by advanced testicular cancer. (The Tour de France is considered the single most grueling sporting event on the planet.)
Armstrong, working with journalist Sally Jenkins, tells the story of his battle with cancer with great candor, sensitivity, and intelligence. Diagnosed at the age of 25, he endured invasive surgery and massive chemotherapy to survive a truly grim prognosis.
"People think of my comeback as a triumph, but in the beginning it was a disaster," Armstrong writes. "When you have lived for an entire year terrified of dying, you feel like you deserve to spend the rest of your days on a permanent vacation." For a while, Armstrong tried that -- he spent his days playing golf or waterskiing and his nights eating and drinking and channel-surfing. "I was behaving totally out of character and the reason was survivorship," he writes. "It was a classic case of 'Now what?'...I got sick, and it turned my life upside-down, and when I tried to go back to my life I was disoriented, nothing was the same -- and I couldn't handle it...I know now that surviving cancer involved more than just a convalescence of the body. My mind and my soul had to convalesce, too."
I would recommend this book to anyone, regardless of whether or not you or someone you love has had cancer, and regardless of your interest -- or lack of interest -- in professional cycling. It is a powerful human drama and a compelling read that will deepen your understanding of what it is like to face illness, the prospect of death, and how difficult it can be to get your life back on track.