Is It Possible to Completely Erase Cancer Memories?

Last year, we’d been toying with the idea of selling our home and downsizing but were waiting for the opportunity to make a nice profit. I was focused on leaving the past behind, especially my memories of cancer in that house.

Housing prices boomed a year ago. It was a seller’s market. In our neighborhood, average home prices ranged from $300,000 to $600,000. My husband was about to retire, and we started to give the notion serious thought. He was anxious to do more traveling. When we bought our house in March of 2014, we’d downsized from a large two-story, 3,000-square-foot home. Since all the children had grown up and moved out on their own, there was no need for us to stay in that large home.We found a smaller home closer to my husband’s workplace and bought it thinking it would be our forever home, but that wasn’t the case.

Just a little over two months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a very unexpected and unwelcome surprise.

New to the area, I struggled to find reputable doctors without friends or relatives there to help make suggestions, so I relied heavily on the internet. After searching, I found a breast specialist and made an appointment. That started the ball rolling and for the next year and a half, I’d be shuffled from one doctor to another enduring countless tests and procedures. To say it was a stressful time would be a huge understatement.

As I endured biopsies, surgeries, and treatments, I faced emotions I never expected to face. First, came discouragement. We’d just bought a new home and had barely settled in and WHAM! I felt like I’d been run over by a Mack truck.

Next came depression as I lost my breasts. I felt completely blindsided. Yes, I’d been given the option to save my breasts by choosing lumpectomy and mammograms every three months, but I didn’t want to be tethered to continual testing and the possibility of more surgeries. Opting for bilateral mastectomies seemed my best choice, but I had no clue how it would affect the rest of my life.

Anger slowly crept in. I was angry at myself for not being more diligent about my healthcare. I didn’t perform monthly breast self-checks. I did them when I remembered to do them, and that, apparently, wasn’t good enough. I also became angry at the environment. I had no idea what caused my cancer. I had no immediate family members with breast cancer, so I assumed something I’d ingested or come into contact with had caused the disease. Was it the asbestos in the ceiling of the floral shop I worked in for seven years or perhaps some of those frozen pizzas I’d grabbed as a quick dinner? Maybe it was the brush killer I’d sprayed around our property to kill overgrown weeds and shrubs? I doubted I’d ever truly know the culprit.

As I dealt with one emotion after another, I began to feel hopeless. The surgeries and treatment were painful. I began suffering physically. Insomnia and anxiety went with me daily. And that’s when the idea of selling our house and moving gave me a tiny spark of hope. I wondered if maybe, just maybe, I could leave those awful cancer memories behind.

We put our house on the market and had a contract for it within a month. The buyer paid more than the asking price, which we weren’t expecting! He wanted to move in right away, so we had a quick closing. That left us packing up fast and hightailing out of there.

Since we didn’t know where we wanted to “land,” we opted for a rental home. It was a relief to leave the “cancer” house behind, but I didn’t realize just how much lighter I felt until we purchased our next home.

We left the rental when we found a beautiful one-story home in a rural part of the state. My husband and I are pushing 70 years old, so stairs would be difficult in the future. After packing and unpacking again, we finally settled in, and our new house began to feel like a home.

We’ve been here for three weeks and today, I realize this change has been very good. No longer do I walk into my bedroom and feel anxious remembering how my body hurt after surgery. I don’t associate this house with agony and suffering, as I did our old house. My cancer memories are slowly fading away.

I don’t know if they’ll ever truly disappear. I don’t really expect them to; after all, cancer has been such an impactful part of my life for the past 10 years. But my hope is that the memories will continue to fade away and become more distant than ever before.

It’d be nice if I could completely forget cancer ever invaded my life, but then how would I explain the changes I’ve experienced from that time of trial?

Cancer has helped me be more compassionate toward others, it’s taught me to be strong, even in the face of fear, and it’s helped put me in contact with people from around the world as I’ve shared my story.

It would be so nice if we could erase cancer memories completely, but those affected by the disease know that’s an impossibility. Memories are personal experiences we’ve tucked deep into our hearts for safekeeping. We’re the only ones who can really understand and relive them. But we also have the power to choose when and when not to think about them.

I’ve learned that when a memory surfaces that I don’t want to face, I can say no to it. I’ve also learned no is a good answer, and saying no is a complete sentence.

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