Here’s a litmus test to separate the cancer from the non-cancer folks. The first thing that you think when you hear the word NED is:
1) My autocorrect is malfunctioning
2) That Pogues song (A curse upon you Oliver Cromwell!).
3) Nancy Drew. What the heck is “Ned” short for anyway?? Nedathy?
4) The best you can possibly hope for after a cancer diagnosis.
Last month I reported on my surgical checkup. Yesterday was the oncology one. For anyone lucky enough not to know — I was treated for cancer three ways: with surgery, with medicine, and with radiation. Three different doctors. My medical oncologist (the one who prescribes the chemotherapy) was my point woman, so along with my surgeon/ninja, I have to see her on a regular schedule. (I no longer see the radiation doc).
Very few things in life make me grumpier than going to the oncologist’s office. I went there to get six chemotherapy treatments, 28 radiation treatments, 17 biotherapy infusions, 9 port flushes, a whole lot of blood work, and two Neulasta injections. And a crapton of doctor’s visits. Ghosts roam the hallways of that place.
While it’s a wonderful group of talented doctors, for some reason there are always long waits involved. I sit in that waiting room, as I have done dozens of times, with an overwhelming desire to run out the door, or to tell someone to shut the f*** up.
I sit surrounded by sick folks; with people puffy from steroids, wearing crooked wigs, napping in wheelchairs, smelling stale or of cigarettes.
I always, always think, “I don’t belong here.” This helped me cling to my delusions that I had been misdiagnosed from the beginning, that this had all been some big mistake, cosmic or otherwise. I no longer believe that, for the most part.
And before you criticize me in the comments, I know that my thoughts are ungenerous, bitchy, and flat out cruel. I know that.
Fortunately, I have Sharon Salzberg’s meditation on compassion to help me through, to remind me that my difficult emotions are caused by a state of suffering, and that they appear without my invitation. I can’t stop them, but I can recognize them for what they really are and commit to not acting on them. That’s a work in progress, I admit. I’ve never run out the door or cursed at anyone, but I’ve been somewhat snarly to the people around me and I’m sure they got the message.
Which is why, I think, my husband never goes with me. In sickness and in health doesn’t really obligate him to take every single roller coaster ride with me.
Readers of my work have heard this a million times, but once you get the cancer, you can never be sure it’s gone. In my charming way of speaking, the only way to know you’re cured is to die of something else. I realize not that the best we can hope for after a diagnosis is actually the best it can be for anyone, whether we realize it or not. At this moment, in this breath, everything is OK. Tomorrow, it might not be, but right now, the orders are to carry on.
When I started down this crazy path, unwillingly and maybe kicking and screaming, I was able to live my life between appointments. Six years ago, I lived in three-week increments. Now, I’m living a year at a time, with only occasional panic attacks about a new pain or a fear of thigh cancer.
NED = No Evidence of Disease. From yesterday’s discharge form: