The other day I was asked by a representative from a cancer organization how long have I been in remission. I didn’t know what to say; I am four years out and no one had ever asked me that. I did not answer the question but rather said that I had cancer in 2007. Remission is a bad word. One needs to believe that cancer has been beaten. Remission implies that it is only a matter of time before the cancer returns. By definition, remission is the period of time during which symptoms of a disease are reduced (partial) or undetectable (complete). In the case of breast cancer, remission means that tests and imaging do not show evidence of the cancer, and that a doctor cannot see signs of the cancer during a clinical exam. It does not mean the same thing as cure. Doctors almost never use the term cure; rather, they usually talk about remission. Mine never spoke of either, just said I would be fine and that I should not worry about recurrence. It’s not that he was guaranteeing me my cancer would not return, he simply stated that I need not worry. He is right; can my cancer come back? Sure, but I choose to believe that it will not, and worrying about it is not going to prevent recurrence, but could likely encourage one. Microscopic collections of cancer cells often go undetected in all humans, not just in those of us who have had cancer. Therefore, while we are all at risk for cancer, you don’t see others saying, “Ah, but my cancer cells are in remission”, do Ya? No, and often these cells will be eliminated before they can cause trouble.
I am not living in denial; I am not ignorant of the nature of cancer. I know that for many, remission is a wonderful word. However, it’s time to change the attitude. The mind-body connection to cancer is strong, but so is the beast itself. Cancer remission is like roach control. As long as you put out the traps, no roaches….but that does not mean you have solved the roach problem. Eventually the roaches will win. We need to find a cure so that we can put the word remission in the circular file. We as humans can only do so much. We can eat better, reduce our stress, and live better. However, we need to find a cure for those who are in the battle of their lives; we need to stop racing and start curing. Clear-mission is what we need, not remission.
Elyn Jacobs is President of Elyn Jacobs Consulting, Inc. and a breast cancer survivor. She empowers women diagnosed with cancer to navigate the process of treatment and care, and she educates about how to prevent recurrence and new cancers. She is passionate about helping others get past their cancer and into a cancer-free life.
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