by Susie Merz

I am not sure why this year feels like more of a milestone than the ones before it, but it does. 5 years. Maybe it’s because I heard the same statistic coming out of the mouths of several doctors. “The time in remission on average is 2 to 5 years.” Or perhaps it was being told that I likely had 5 to10 years to live. The prognosis I found online for my cancer wasn’t that blunt. Although, as I recall, it was given in months. How long is 42 to 56 months anyway?

click to enlarge

Five years ago, I was in post-diagnosis purgatory, the phase before treatment started. On December 24th it will be 5 years since I started chemotherapy, having an injection and gamely swallowing a handful of pills with no real idea of what was to come.

It’s difficult to pin down how I feel, about the 5-year mark. To be both moving away from cancer and the experience of it, and toward cancer, with the possibility of it returning again, at the same time, makes a twisted knot of my mind. The chain is tangled and I can’t pry it loose, even though I want to lay out my feelings in an orderly fashion.

Regardless of this lack of clarity, I do know I look forward to celebrating in May, when it will be 5 years since the stem cell transplant. I’m not sure yet what I will do, but if nothing else I will pat myself on the back and say, Good for you, you survived that hideous procedure. And you’re doing well, working, functioning, and living your life.” The background voice in my head reminds me, How about a little gratitude for that procedure? It appears to have saved your life.

Maybe the conundrum with the grateful/not grateful struggle is that I cannot imagine my life without all the people in it now, that I have met because I had cancer. What an unexpected treasure, truly. All these dear people I wouldn’t trade for the world. 

It is also possible that I am overthinking the whole thing. It just is what it is, be grateful that you’re alive and well and get on with it. 4, 5, 8, 11 years, what does it matter?

I am about to apply for a 10-year passport, even though I could have saved the forty dollars and applied for a 5-year one. It’s an effort to stretch my mind, like a piece of taffy, to see my life 10 years from now, travelling with my passport. That’s another 5, and another 5. It’s a possibility at least, and for the moment, I am grateful for that.

Susie Merz first came to Callanish as a retreat participant in 2015 and has since joined the staff team as a clinical counsellor. She has worked as a therapist for over 14 years, both in nonprofit agencies and in her own counselling practice.