“No evidence of disease.” Also known as NED. This medical terminology translates to cancer remission. “No evidence of disease” aptly describes the state in which your body has been examined for signs of cancer and that at that moment there is no evidence of cancer. Typically, either you have undergone imaging tests or have been physically evaluated, such as with a biopsy, and the results don’t show any signs of cancer. Cue the biggest, baddest, and brightest celebration possible! When I reached remission from breast cancer, I thought, “It’s finally all over. I have officially survived!”
While the world around me is ready to move on, and believe me, I am too, there is a piece of my diagnosis that lingers. It may not be active as far as I’m aware, but I still carry my cancer with me. There is a persistent, underlying consideration that it could be back at any time.
Although I’ve done everything I can do to reduce my risk of recurrence, from having my breasts removed to altering my diet, I cannot fully be convinced it won’t return. Especially when the impossible had already happened, being diagnosed with breast cancer in the first place at age 32 without any family history, identified risk factors, or foreseeable causes.
There are definitely moments I catch myself having completely forgotten I had breast cancer, moving freely and fearlessly through my life. Then, suddenly I’m reminded. Whether I feel a phantom stab in my chest that I have no sensation in otherwise, or my calendar alerts me I'm due to see one of my doctors, or I come across a pink ribbon. As much as it makes sense that I’d want to forget it ever happened, I feel the impact breast cancer has on my life is worth recognition.
Part of moving forward includes acknowledging it. When it’s on my mind, I say, “I see you,” and I coach myself through any thoughts or concerns that come up. It might involve a few more appointments with my doctors than necessary, pausing to breathe through nerve pain, or still considering whether the pink breast cancer ribbon is triggering or hopeful (I flip-flop between the two ideas). This has been key in remission for me to be able to continue to move freely and fearlessly through my life, unbound to my breast cancer diagnosis while still knowing I have it. I see you breast cancer, and I continue to move forward.
If breast cancer is forever going to hold a piece of my life, I will do everything in my control to guide how I allow it in. For instance, writing about my cancer since being in remission has led me to assess its true impact on myself. Something I wasn’t able to fully assess during the frenzy of chemo and surgery when my mind was preoccupied purely with survival. Yes, yes, I was aware there were high chances of everything going well, without complication, and as planned.
But the fact was, whatever the number, I was now facing a higher chance of not living than I ever had before. At that time, I wasn’t able to understand the repercussions of being diagnosed with breast cancer in my life beyond treating active cancer. Writing has become an outlet that allows me to explore what breast cancer means to me.
In remission, I’ve also connected with other women with similar experiences. Again, this was something I didn’t seek during active treatment for a variety of reasons which can be summed up to not being ready to talk to others about what was happening. Now, however, from sharing experiences with others affected by breast cancer it feels like less of a weight. There is a collective sense of complexities that a breast cancer diagnosis can impose on one’s life. Regardless of age or stage of relationship with cancer, there’s an understanding that only someone who’s been in the same shoes as you can have. Similarly, to share your experiences and concerns and also encourage each other is meaningful and relieving.
Incorporating something into your life that you didn’t ask for, especially when it’s as impactful as a breast cancer diagnosis, certainly takes effort. It’s a dynamic venture that doesn’t end when you reach remission. And it’s one cancer survivors are often not prepared to manage since the primary focus of a cancer diagnosis is aimed at getting rid of the cancer and surviving (appropriately so).
As I continue to figure out my new normal as a breast cancer survivor, and how to balance the various physical and emotional effects of cancer that continue, I feel a greater general sense of authority over my experience. I have identified better ways to regulate my fears through writing and connecting with other survivors that brings me the comfort and clarity of my own experience. Recurrence is a real possibility, and if it happens, I will be experienced reentering the trenches. However, unless I know my cancer is back, I will continue moving forward free and fearlessly.
To connect with other breast cancer survivors, join our Breast Cancer Facebook Support Group.
Photo Credit: Maksim Chernyshev / EyeEm via Getty Images
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