It’s been two and a half years since I went into remission from Stage IV lymphoma. Since that time, I wrote a book about my experience as a cancer doctor and a cancer patient called I Signed as the Doctor. I’ve started to give seminars and to maintain a website for individuals with cancer, their loved ones, and their caregivers. I’m still working at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), now three days a week, running a program for women doctors and scientists as well as doing clinical work, research, and teaching in breast imaging. This weekend marks the beginning of a new year and a new decade (2010). It’s a good time to answer the question I posed at the end of my book: what’s next?
Going through six months of chemotherapy taught me a lot about how to get through cancer treatment. What it didn’t teach me about was how to be a long-term survivor. Although a person with cancer is by definition a cancer “survivor” from the moment of diagnosis, the challenges of going through cancer treatment and of living a life after treatment are different. Wendy Harpham, a terrific physician-writer who also had cancer, describes how after cancer treatment, you need to adjust to your “new normal.” The process sounds easier than it is. It takes time to understand your new normal, to physically adapt to it, and to make peace with it. And like so many things in life, your “new normal” is a moving target.
I’ve got a plan, and the New Year is a perfect time to start. At my hospital and elsewhere in NYC, there are lots of programs for cancer survivors. I’m going to attend some of these programs and write about them– to see what I can learn, to inform survivors and the people who care about them, and to give feedback to the people who run these programs about how they can be even better. As I’m doing this, I’ll also continue to seek out fun things to do in the playground that is NYC as well as books, music, and other resources and write about them too. Please partake of these activities actively or vicariously, as you like. I’m going to call this project “Survivor to Survivor” or “S2S.”
Got to go. This afternoon, I’m going to see Nora & Delia Ephron’s play, “Love, Loss, and What I Wore.” I’ll let you know how it goes.