Monday, September 22, 2014

Day 1,471: Cancer Doldrums

At some point, somewhere down the line there, cancer got boring.

Yeah, I said that.

I have the luxury of saying it. I can be bored of cancer, because it is not actively trying to kill me, at least not that I know of, not now. But I felt the boredom in the middle of treatment. The appointments, the treatments, the tests and screenings and medication, the physical therapy, reading through the bills and dealing with insurance and talking to your boss and trying to act like this is just a normal part of life, it all seems so...tedious.

When you have an early stage cancer for which the three year mark is a supposedly magic number, and then it comes back after three healthy, fit and active years anyway, in addition to all the other feelings, you might find yourself just being kind of PISSED that right after you graduated to yearly visits you had to go right back to basics.

I remember feeling anxious for quite a while before each visit with my oncologist. I know many women who still feel this way today. I just went to my 3-4 month checkup (I went after 4, but almost stretched it to 5 until I got in trouble and they rescheduled me) last week. I was vaguely nervous the day before, but I told Gabe not to come with me and I just hung out there and didn't feel much of anything. I knew my onc wouldn't do any tests--no blood draws, no scans. He would have someone check my vitals, he would give me a physical, feel my breasts--the real and the fake--check me for lymphedema. I was there maybe 10 minutes; he told me we wouldn't go "chasing problems," and I know what he means--that we won't check for signs of mets because checking for signs of mets doesn't prevent mets and once it's there it's incurable. We don't have to say these things to each other anymore. I find myself annoyed at having to go to the doctor, and yet relieved when it's over. One thing I don't feel anymore is the kind of relief I used to feel, that most women feel, upon being told everything is fine. I don't cling to that notion anymore. Sometimes having cancer means figuratively holding your breath in between appointments, especially when you have something like TNBC for which there are no targeted therapies and so therefore no advice other than "try to be healthy" and "everything in moderation." I understand that people feel they have been given a little bit of their life back when they go to the checkup and get the all-clear.

I don't feel that way anymore. I mean, the all clear doesn't really mean anything. Just like the tests don't really mean anything. I was clearly healthy with no other symptoms but lumps that came out of nowhere both times I was diagnosed. Now, that doesn't mean that I am worried all the time--quite the opposite, in fact. The knowledge that it's kind of a crapshoot enables me not to feel anxious OR relieved. I've had this cough that won't quit, but that was after my strep throat, and my ER visit brought on by an allergic reaction to the antibiotic, and I worried about it for a few minutes, and brought it up to him, but I couldn't take that seriously. I told him: "I've had this crazy hacking cough. But you know, it's gotten better. I know it's better because I can talk to you. I couldn't talk last week. And it's been annoying. Because I don't get sick. I just get cancer."

And he said "You got cancer. Let's use the past tense."

The man has grown on me.

I mean, it's a joke by now, but I knew he would say it, and he didn't disappoint. He told me: "You look good."

I smiled, got dressed, dutifully made my appointment for January, walked the two miles to work. I posted a message letting everyone know I got the OK. I was relieved to learn I didn't need to visit a surgeon anymore. My last surgeon moved, and the first one hasn't seen me in a year and a half now, and honestly I am bored and tired of seeing multiple doctors all the time.

I'm tired of it, and that's why I haven't written much lately. Sometimes I am absolutely astounded when I think about the fact that I have had cancer, much less that I have had it twice. It doesn't seem possible, and yet I can hardly remember not being this person. I feel like my marriage to cancer has wilted on the vine and maybe it's time to take a lover or something.

Except, then, something called me back to reality.

Something reminded me of the initial fear and desperation and disbelief that accompanies cancer in its early stages.

Gabe, the guy who has never really had anything physically challenging befall him in his life, who is blessed with that metabolism and physique that guys half his age envy--Gabe suddenly had some really, really scary medical stuff going on. The main symptom was disturbing, then got more disturbing, and I had to tell him: If they are not listening to you, if no specialist can see you for weeks, you tell them that is unacceptable. You tell them how it is. He got an appointment with a physician's assistant. I went with him. She didn't even examine him--she went straight for the doctor who was too busy to see patients for weeks as soon as we told her what was going on, and he came in, perplexed. All of a sudden there were multiple tests ordered and scheduled--for that day, including a CT scan. I stayed with Gabe through the worst test and he told me to go back to work for the CT scan. We bonded later over how weird it feels for your body to go hot after they put the radioactive dye in your veins. He was pissed that they blew out one of his enormous veins with a failed IV. I opened the mail and rolled my eyes when I saw the bill for $8,000 for the three hours of tests. We waited. We told ourselves it wasn't cancer. We used stupid logic like cancer couldn't happen to both of us. We went online and looked up other possibilities. We tried not to worry about it. He worried about what it could be if it was NOT cancer and he went to the worst places in his mind. He tried to make me feel better, which is what sick people do with healthy people, and I should know, because I have done it all my life. I got moody and testy and then felt terrible about it because I was never like that with my own cancer, but I felt so helpless about his situation.

We waited.

And then we learned that he is fine. Though several doctors told him they have no idea what the hell was going on, which is not exactly comforting, except that it is, because saying we don't know what is going on but you don't have cancer is just about the best phrase ever heard in this family.

His symptoms left almost as suddenly as they came.

He is already bored at the thought of follow up appointments. He's not sure he'll go back. He told me that although he went with me, although he was there, he has no idea how I've done all the tests and scans and appointments and everything all these years, that it would make him crazy, that it took up too much of his time and that was just over a time period of one week. I said, I know. I did that, with a new job, and babies, and all of it. I did that after being pregnant and nursing twice and all the medical stuff that goes along with that. But I've done that all my life, since six years old with epilepsy, and I don't know any different. But you? You're the healthy one. I can't have you doing this too.

I just don't know how to be the one waiting and unable to do anything. And I guess that is the curse and the blessing with cancer. On the one hand, it's my life, and my mortality, and my disfigurement and the end of certain things I wanted with my own life like having more children.

On the other hand, at least it's happening to me, and not to my people.

Somehow, that's easier to take.


  1. "On the other hand, at least it's happening to me, and not to my people."

    You are such a mom, and I mean that as a high, high compliment.

  2. Your a great person! Thanks for sharing the article