Today’s post is brought to you by the letter c and the number 5.
Another month, another doctor appointment. In 2008, I started measuring life by the intervals between appointments. What began as a chaotic barrage of tests and second opinions settled into regularly scheduled appointments. Every couple of weeks stretched into every few weeks; slowly into months. This week brought my scheduled six month checkup with my medical oncologist, the woman who coordinated all my treatment.
When I first knew I had cancer, I read Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Cancer. In retrospect, it wasn’t the deepest well I could have visited, but I was in crisis and it made me smile. She cautions against giving too much credence to cancer, in fact she advises to never spell it with a capital c. That was the inspiration for my first blog title, katie’s little c. What first captivated me as inspirational became a major and meaningful challenge.
Faced with my mortality, how do I go on living? Without diligence, cancer becomes a cancer, edging out all the healthy parts of your life and relationships as Susan Gubar recently in Living With Cancer: Is it Back? “Perhaps, as Samuel Johnson intuited, all diseases bring egotism in their wake. For people in distress find it hard to think of anything else.”
I’ve seen it play out in my life and the lives of others. When every ache and pain is a possible existential risk, it’s flat out hard to maintain perspective. You can get stuck there.
I don’t want to be stuck there. Every day, I have to make a choice about how much power I will give cancer over my life.
At my appointment this week blood was drawn, my chest was examined, heart and lungs were heard, nodes and organs palpated. I officially graduated to the once per year plan. That’s as untethered as my doctors and I will ever get, because while the chances of it coming back are small, tiny she said, they are not zero. Given how unlikely my cancer was in the first place, I don’t argue.
There’s another c-word we don’t use “cured.” Cancer can never be fully banished from the castle and uncertainly lurks around dark corners.
The day after my checkup. My phone rang at work. My office is in a valley with poor cell phone reception so I couldn’t answer it, but saw it was my oncologist’s office.
What if my blood tests turned up something?
I spent the next minute or so following the prompts on my cell phone’s voice mail system and planning my few remaining days.
Jenny from the doctor’s office was calling to let me know the blood work was fine. Still, my heart pounded for hours.
Every day I decide how to not give cancer more than is and has been necessary. I’ve accepted that it’s a lesson that I will learn and relearn. To balance between anxiety and awareness. Fear and gratitude. Vigilance and paranoia. Recrimination and refocus.
Between what if and what is.