You know your life is jacked up when you are delivering the following as “good news”.
Good news everyone! I went to Mass General in Boston yesterday, escorted by the lovely Sheila Enderby (my chemo nurse). We had a consult with Dr. Dizon, a former W&I colleague of my oncologist. I entered with the intention of learning about a trial chemo that I qualified for at the recommendation of my gyn. oncologist.
I sat in the little examination room with Sheila before the Doctor came to see me. Anxiety through the roof. A sweet, 24 year-old medical student came in and took an extensive history. As much as I liked her, my nerves were getting the best of me, and I wanted to rip her head off if she asked me ONE more time the age of my first menstrual cycle. I think she was nervous and trying to be thorough. Seriously though, how many times do I need to answer the same questions? After the medical history interrogation, the doctor finally came in an hour and 3 minutes later (but who was counting?).
When Dr. Dizon walked in, I instantly loved him. He is a small, stylish, Filipino man. He wore a purple velour sport coat and matching purple socks. His outfit was completed with a bow tie. He put the CT scans on his computer and we looked at the images together. He showed me exactly what I was looking at and pointed out where the tumor is. You could tell that he was surprised and relieved to see that it was small and only in one location.
He confidently told me that it was his professional opinion that treatment beyond surgery is unnecessary at this time. I think we all let out a collective sigh of relief as there were talks of chemo initially. Cue twisted thinking: Thank goodness it’s only a little bit of cancer! Thank goodness I only need another major abdominal surgery!
He said “On this earth there are horses and there are zebras. You my dear, are definitely a zebra.” This is a really polite way of saying that it is effing bizarre that I have the disease that I do. He also said something that helped me to reframe my thinking surrounding this illness. He is a straight shooter and flat out told me that this may not be the end. This could be the beginning of many more recurrences. He basically said to consider it to be like my own version of diabetes. It’s not ideal, it’s not good, but as it comes we will treat it to the best of our ability. If it comes back we cut it out. Grow tumor, find tumor, zap tumor, lather, rinse, repeat.
So many times over the past week my friends and family have heard an emotionally-taxed me say “is this really my life?” Dr. Dizon essentially said yes, this is your life, but we will do everything we can to manage it. Before the goal was to never do this again. I was sure that my cancer was one and done. His honesty forced me to embrace the fact that, yup, this is my reality. Who knows, maybe I’ll never have a recurrence again, or maybe I will. Either way right now, it’s not a death sentence.
This has not stopped me from thinking about mortality. I know you’re thinking, “oh stop you’re going to live until you’re 96 like the rest of us poor souls. Stop being dramatic.” I am sure that I am scaring my mother right now by writing about death (Sorry Mom, but don’t worry. I still plan to outlive you). I had a long existential life talk with Sheila yesterday and I realized that I am less afraid to die and more afraid to live an unfulfilled life.
It may sound extreme to think about but sometimes you have to go to that dark land of “what if” sit with the irrational fears, grieve, make peace, and come back up for air. So that is what I am doing. Problems only arise when you get lost in the land of “what if”. Do not fret my friends, I do not intend to stay there. It’s healthy to visit but not to move in.
My biggest fear surrounding living with the prospect of continued disease is having it prevent me from reaching my goals. I’ll be damned if cancer-recurrence prevents me from traveling, publishing written works, celebrating the accomplishments of friends and family, growing professionally, watching my students graduate, adopting children, and/or marrying my future best friend (TBA). If living with disease means needles, blood work, surgery, recovery, hospital beds, CT scans, and medication, so be it. After last year, short of getting shot in the face with an AK-47, I can handle any physical challenge that comes my way. I just don’t want to miss out or continually feel like my life is on hold. Although looking back at my photo review of the past year I guess I did a better job of “getting busy living” than I thought. Perhaps this is all within my control more than I think.
Anyway, I will be channeling my inner Esther Garbus as I approach surgery #5 with feisty energy. Perhaps I’ll also channel the “I don’t deserve this crap” anger into scaring the piss out of my tumor so it never grows back.
On a lighter note I had the most lovely day in Boston post-oncology consult with Sheila. My chemo nurse, on her day off mind you, took the time to come to my appointment with me cross state lines and proceeded to take me out for celebratory cocktails after at the Liberty Hotel:
This is the selfie we texted to Dr. Robison, my primary oncologist, after receiving news of no chemo:
I am so lucky to have this medical team. They are family. I don’t know many other medical professionals that care more about their patients than these people. I love that I can go to an oncology consult and follow it up with lunch and cocktails with my nurse. We can talk about life and death and laugh about it. It’s remarkable.
I’ll end by saying thank-you again for the continued support! I will be updating the chronicles as details unfold regarding surgery and recovery timeline.
With love and gratitude,