I don't know how to delicately say this, so I'm just gonna let it out...the last few months for me have been hell. I totally get living in a pandemic has been like that for pretty much everyone, but it's been more than that for me and many others who find themselves in a similar predicament. I was supposed to have a scan in April and it was put on hold due to the COVID19 pandemic. I knew with 100% certainty at that time that it was the right thing to do. Even so, worry, anxiety and all out fear settled into my psyche despite vigilantly trying to remain grounded, at peace and filled with gratitude. Emotionally, the wait and worry consumed me. Then add to the mix constantly worrying about contracting COVID and what that would mean for me and the people I care about when the rest of the world has, as it seems, moved on....it's been almost unbearable. I was expressing this sentiment recently to another human and the response that I got was "well, we all have problems that no one knows about" and "you just have to have faith". Well....forgive me....but just "having faith" hasn't really worked out too well for me in the past couple of years. I have had to work really damn hard to be where I am today. I took these words as a kind of "vanilla", blanket response to my very real fears and concerns. I felt dismissed...and a little pissed. Whether or not this person meant to be hurtful, I'm not sure or perhaps they just haven't ever faced the kind of adversity many of us have, I don't know, but it got me to thinking. Perhaps what is lacking in our world today with the blatant disregard for other humans is just the basic lack of knowing what others are going through and experiencing? Maybe if we actually took the time to listen rather than respond, we could empathize with one another....I feel that this is severely lacking in our society right now. So I give you the run down of this very important and unforgettable day that is a big part of my story.Not to make you feel sorry for me or for attention, but maybe to provide you comfort that you are not alone in the "dealing with some heavy shit" department or to maybe just to open your eyes and hopefully your heart. Perspective is defined as "a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something new; a point of view". I'm not trying to change your perspective, although maybe that would be a good thing, but I am trying to open your eyes to a new, maybe different point of view. I hope you read on with an open mind and more importantly an open heart....
Part 1: Battle Prep
9pm, Scan Eve: My scan story starts with what I call battle mode. While tonight is just 12 hours before go time, in all honesty, I've been dealing with this for months. A looming scan brings up memories of past pain, disappointment, joy and just nerves. I'm trying not to get over confident, but I find myself pleading the universe for a little help. I'm both manifesting a positive outcome and also preparing myself for how to handle bad news. I'm a walking contradiction if I've ever known one. I paint my nails, opting this time for turquoise. I figure out tomorrow's wardrobe choice (my armor) and climb into bed, hoping I get some sleep.
2 am: I awake to a case of the why's....I know I can handle this. I know I don't give up easily and I know that whatever it is to be my fate, I've got this. But why? Why is this my reality? Why has it been 2 years and I'm still here? Why does a higher power think I need these lessons? Why did/do I deserve this.....
6am: I'm savoring the cuddles from my 5 year old who decided to crawl into bed with me. I'm finding peace in these last few moments before it's time to get this show on the road. I abruptly decide on a wardrobe change. The armor I had picked out just didn't seem right. My sister and I laugh that I have this weird "gift" of remembering what I was wearing on important days of my life. Today would be no exception. Light wash skinny jeans, a "rebel" vintage rocker tee, gold double strand necklace, yellow cut out heels and my hair down in large beachy waves. This was it. I even put on my red lipstick despite the fact that it would be covered up and smeared in the face mask that I have to wear thanks to COVID. Armor ready. My dear friends had sent me texts while I was getting ready, but I waited to check them once I was comfortably in the passenger seat of my Dad's car. It was my meditation for the 90 minute ride to the cancer center. I asked Dad to take me today because honestly his presence grounds me. I've always felt this need to make my parents proud of me and I hate that I can't take this not so great situation away.The idea that my diagnosis and situation could be causing them any sort of pain, kills me. I can't imagine watching my child go through this kind of hell so my "parent goggles" acknowledge how difficult this must be for them. I'm determined to make my response to this whole disaster something they can both be proud of. Heck, something I can be proud of, too.
Part 2: This is my Life:
9am: Face mask on, we walk into my cancer center ready for checkpoint number 2 (the first was a phone call/COVID screening yesterday). I head in for my lab draw. I have a new nurse today...I've never seen him. I'm trying not to read into this and just accept it as meeting someone new in a place where I literally thought I knew everyone. I have a chemo port that was surgically implanted under my right clavicle and it is accessed via a big old needle poke for a blood draw and to hook up the tubes necessary to inject the contrast dye for my CT scan. My port isn't feeling great today, but honestly anymore I'm numb to so much pain that I don't really make a thing out of it. We finish up and I head up to CT. I check in, read some daily affirmations on my phone and wait for my name to be called. The mental work it takes to be in a good head space for this is quite honestly exhausting. After changing into the required gown, I'm reminded of how far I've come that I no longer have to take my wig off for this portion of the game. I have hair. My hair. This is me winning....
I have had many scans in the last 2 years and I have found myself in so many different scan rooms. Today, I"m in the same room I was in for my first CT. I'm hopeful that this means I've come full circle and not that history is ready to repeat itself. As I get into position for the CT scan, the tech starts flushing my port once again. Here we go...my port is not cooperating. I tell her I'm a tough cookie, so I can deal with the pain, but she assures me that there shouldn't be any pain. Because of this, she thinks it is necessary to try to access a vein instead. Perfect. Vein number 1 in my arm rolls...not working. We scratch that and search for another one in my hand. Success! She begins the scan. I am instructed to hold my breath for a few seconds as the machine spins and hums around me. A few tears start leaking out of the side of my eyes as I start flashing back to my radiation experience. Alone on the table, the zapping sounds and holding my breath for 40 seconds or so in order to protect my heart from any damage that radiation could cause. Lucky for me, this time I only had to hold my breath for 5 seconds, but the flashbacks were vivid. Time to inject the contrast dye. What you may not know about this part is when it rushes through your veins it sends a weird, warm sensation through your body.It honestly feels like you are peeing your pants. Awkward. I did it...not peed my pants, but finished the scan (wink). All Done! As the Tech bandages up my arm and hand, she talks to me about the effects COVID has on your lungs that she first handedly witnessed while doing scans in the ER. I feel more rage for those who dismiss this pandemic as nothing. It's just not so.
Now I'm off to get my lymphedema checked. This is mostly a precaution and to make sure that I don't have any swelling or problems in my arm where 19 lymph nodes were removed. The nurse here says my name sounds like I should be famous...love her! A little laughter to brighten up my morning. My numbers are even better than than last time we had checked! Success! I now head back to the lab to get the tubes removed from my port. As the nurse flushes it once more, the pain makes me flinch. It feels like something or someone punched me in the shoulder. Not normal. I have to leave everything as is, so my doctor can check it out. This wasn't in the plan, but I've learned to roll with the punches. It's time for a break and to go get some lunch. I need a break from this place. I desperately need some fresh air. Dad is a champ. He doesn't complain...not even once. We go to my coffee house sanctuary which is tradition at this point, but mix things up by taking our order to go. Because I am "vulnerable" eating in a restaurant right now isn't really something I can do. I reward myself with some carbs today...avocado toast, fruit and a cafe' miel......I deserve this..... I'm worth that. Now we wait.
Part 3: Facing the Music
2pm: I spent the last couple of hours hitting up Costco, running errands and having great conversation with Dad. I have fought back tears more times than I can count today. You would think that I'd be immune to this situation and this type of stress by now, but the thing of it is, I'm trying so hard to save my damn life that it has become my passion. When you care this much about something, holding it all in, hell, holding it all together is often times impossible. We head back to the cancer center, I check in for my oncology appointment and await my fate. My heart is racing. I close my eyes and silently recite to myself "inhale peace, exhale stress. Inhale calm, exhale worry." I do this over and over and over. I wait for my turn longer than usual. This is it.....I thought. They are taking so long because they don't know how to break the bad news to me. Finally, my name is called. My nurse Katie and I have become like friends over the years. She knows me. Before she starts in with my vitals and all of the cancer questions, as I call them, she reads me. She knows I'm terrified. She looks at me and says, "You didn't hear it from me, but everything is good". Tears, tears, tears. You realize how much you've been holding inside when it is finally released. The rest of the visit is spent talking about moving forward, surgeries to schedule, no more clinical trial (yay!!), needing a port study tomorrow to figure out what is wrong with it and so much more. I will save that for later because the takeaway here is after all of this time, this worry, this stress....I am cancer free.
As happy as I am for this news (THRILLED to say the least) ,metaphorically and quite literally, my feet hurt! I'm exhausted. The emotional toll this whole day has had on me is nothing short of completely taxing! These shoes, this way of life, is not for the faint of heart. I will have my celebratory cocktail when I get home, but I'm more excited to crawl into bed, thank God for this day and look forward to a fresh start tomorrow. A cancer free, fresh start. As crazy as it sounds, I am grateful for all of this heartache and stress that I've had to go through. Cancer has rewarded me with the ability to really see people and understand what pain and heartache is all about. I would never presume to suggest to someone to just have faith and just get over anything because I know first hand it is not that simple. Having faith, even keeping faith takes WORK. The mere suggestion of getting over something dismisses the importance of experiencing that said something no matter how hard it is. I have learned so much and I have been challenged more than I ever thought I would be. As tiresome as my shoes sometimes leave me, I wouldn't want to be walking in anyone else's. In closing, my now nine year old has had this one question that he has asked me time and again since my diagnosis two and a half years ago. Periodically, he asks "Mom...is there still cancer in your body?" Just let that sink in a minute....
Proudly, confidently and without hesitation....today I came home and said "hey bud, guess what?"....."no cancer in mom's body".
Forever grateful for this moment in time and for the opportunity to continue to live my great story...cancer freaking free. -M