I haven’t signed onto this blog in about six weeks, I’m embarrassed to say. I almost forgot my WordPress login and password!
The last month or two, since I wrote the “Wow, I’m Done.” post in November has been one long, “What is Not Cancer” post: holiday meals and ice skating and running to get that chemo weight (and other weight) off and seeing friends and surfing and hiking and cycling and walking the dogs and just generally trying to do anything and everything that is not cancer.
I thought I could just put cancer in a box, close the lid, and move on. Other survivors tell me that this is a normal stage that you go through, the “Wow, what the hell just happened to me? How can I just forget about it?” stage. I do not want to walk 60 miles with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure folks in pink tutus and pink angel wings. I do not want to read any more survivor memoirs. I do not want to make my diet a breast cancer diet; I’m happy with a regular “fewer calories in/more calories out” regimen. I do not want to give up wine because it might knock down the recurrence risk by a percentage point or two.
In mid-January, I go to my 6-month radiation check-up, and I begin to realize that cancer will always be there. I will forever be checking and testing and making sure that the cancer hasn’t come back. The doc doesn’t have bad news. She seems happy to see me. I’m the patient who got into a bike accident on the way to radiation. That’s always good for a laugh.
Then we get down to business: She says my irradiated left breast looks good. No, don’t worry about the hardening of the tissue or the numbness along the incision line of the lumpectomy. That’s normal, not a recurrence. Remember they cut the nerves around the tumor. It’s never going to be quite normal. The darkening of the skin caused by radiation—a weird square over my breast, odd to have two right angles in your cleavage—is fading nicely, she says. So the right angles might be faint enough to wear a sexy dress in a year or so, if I succeed in my diet and exercise campaign, I say with a laugh. See you in six months, the doc says cheerily.
When I get home, I pick up “The Emperor of All Maladies,” an excellent history of cancer published in 2009. I put it down about a year ago, just as chemo was ending and my energy waning. For some reason, I feel I can pick it up again. I strangely have the strength to try to understand retroviruses and all the genetic mayhem that causes, that becomes, cancer.
I start reading the email digest of Bay Area Young Survivors. For a couple months, I’ve been barely scanning the digests and just filing them away. I’ve been thinking, “That’s over now.” But then, reading the digests, I learn that a friend from BAYS got a horrible infection after reconstruction surgery and was hospitalized during the holidays. I feel like a dork for not knowing, for not at least emailing her my good wishes. I learn of the struggles of those newly diagnosed, and of those out of “active treatment” for years. I realize I will always have a bond with these women, and there’s no use denying it.
A few days later, a request for those willing to do interviews for a video project goes out on the BAYS listserv. I volunteer. As I’m doing the interview a couple days later, I realize that I still have a lot to say about breast cancer, about cancer, about this journey.
The cancer’s not back. I hope it never is. But I am.