Cancer: Unknown

Hi, I'm Jessi. I'm 35. I'm a wife, a mother of three, a communications professional, and I have cancer. I was originally diagnosed with Cancer of Unknown Primary, and then officially Small Round Cell Sarcoma. The official 5-year survival rate for this diagnosis is less than 5%, but that’s not me. I’m a survivor and I will beat this.

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  • Jessi Stetina

What if I die?



When you have cancer, you’re not allowed to say this, or any variation of it. You’re immediately hushed up with, ‘No, you’re going to beat this!’ or ‘You’ve got to have a positive outlook!’ And I appreciate the cheerleading, I do.


But what if I die?


I can’t stop the thought from creeping up. I can’t stop the blind panic that comes with it. I know the friends and family who try to stop me from saying or thinking this have thought it too. And that’s why they won’t let me say it. It may trigger their own blind panic.


But I have to say it. I have to face it. It may seem counter-productive to my own current sanity, but I can’t pretend there isn’t a knife hanging by a thread above me. I have cancer of unknown primary. Want to know what going down the Google hole on that looks like?

Am I on the high end of average? I was diagnosed in May. Do I have until May 2019? What does that mean for me? What does that mean for my family?


I’m like most moms think first of my kids. And while my heart breaks for my oldest two at the thought of leaving them motherless, my emotions take an even further dive when I think of my daughter. My daughter in May will not yet be 3.


She won’t remember me.


She may one day think she does. She may piece together what will pass for memories from photos and stories, but they won’t be real memories.


That kills me. Well, no, the cancer is what kills me. But I’m wreck about the possibility of this for two reasons. One, the whole fucking thing. She won’t remember me. God, doesn’t that sting? I’m not a religious person, so my only real tangible concept of life after death is through living on in in the memories of others. The idea that my own daughter will not keep my memory alive hurts. It really hurts.


And two, how selfish am I being? There a million other reasons why my dying would really hurt my family and my friends, but the thing that rattles around in my brain is the egotistical horror that someone might not remember me. It may be for the best for her if she doesn’t remember me. She won’t remember the pain of losing a mother, something her brothers will not spared. It’s so selfish of me to want her to one day have that pain. And when I spell it out like that, I don’t want her to have that pain. Not at all.


But I want her to have something more than stories and photos. I want all three to have something. So it may be a bit morbid, but I have started journals for each of them. In them, I’m sharing that I’m facing something that may very well kill me. That they may have to go through the rest of their lives without me. And I want them to have in my own words how much I love them. How much I cherish them. I didn’t have a terrific childhood, and that’s describing it generously. I always saw my children as a chance to make it right. I could never go back and fix it for me, but I could give a great childhood to them. If I’m not around to make sure that happens, I need them to at least know how much I love them. How much they are worth.


I also have something for my husband. My husband who has told me that I have to live because he can’t do this without me.


I mean, no pressure or anything.


But he can do this. If he has to, he can. I need to make sure to tell him that. It is one thing to say it now to him, when I’m brushed off with a ‘You’ll be fine.’ The hope is with this is to leave him the affirmations that he can do it if he has to. That he has three people who need him to do it if he has to.


I know this is a dark topic, and I don’t mean it to sound like I’m wallowing in despair. For the most part, I’m not. But it would be lying to say I don’t get down about it all, and it would be impractical if I didn’t face this possible reality. As I share this, my doctors are putting together a treatment plan that is essentially a ‘best guess’. With CUP, you have to try to treat what you can find with medicine that is specifically made to treat specific things. Without actually knowing what I specifically have, we’re throwing spaghetti at the wall.


So I live in a weird limbo space. I carry on. I go to work, I spend time with my kids, my husband, my family, my friends, and I live my life as normal as possible. But I also have to think through the reality of not being here in a year, a few years, maybe a little more.


I don’t have a clever way of closing this, or a profound statement. I haven’t come to terms with my own mortality yet. I struggle and cry over it. I know I’ve been all over the place with this post. My thoughts are all over the place when it comes to this topic.


I guess the biggest takeaway is to say if you are struggling with a life threatening disease, it’s okay to say ‘What if I die?’ Don’t be hushed. Let it out, face it, and decide what that means for how you. For me, it’s leaving my husband and children my own words for them to one day keep and cherish, and the hope that maybe my own struggles with this may help someone else.

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