Ninety-three steps. That’s the length of the glass-enclosed walkway from the parking deck to the cancer center at the teaching hospital where I get occasional checkups. It’s not long – about the distance from our front door to our mailbox and back. Yet three years ago, it felt like 93 yards. Or 93 miles.
After a recurrence of ovarian cancer in 2012, I spent eight days in the hospital following cytoreductive surgery (aka debulking) and hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (aka – no kidding – shake and bake). I won’t bore you with the details. I’ll just say I’m in awe of modern medicine, the procedure was successful, and I was feeling great when I was released.
However, in the days between my release and follow-up visit, I began to feel increasingly tired. At first I thought I was just overdoing it at home. But by the time my appointment rolled around, even a short walk left me weak and out-of-breath.
I tried to hide my nervousness as I waited for the doctor. Were my lungs damaged? Was there something wrong with my heart? Or – and this was my real fear – had the cancer somehow come raging back in less than a week?
Imagine my relief when the doctor told me I was simply anemic. Well, actually severely anemic; I would need a blood transfusion. But that was it. He even agreed to call my longtime oncologist and arrange for the transfusion at my local hospital close to home.
My heart was fine. My lungs were fine. I was fine!
I left the doctor’s office with renewed energy. But it quickly became clear that even very good news is no match for anemia. As I made my way down the walkway, I kept having to stop and sit down. My mother – who had driven me – asked if I wanted a wheelchair. I told her I most certainly did not. (My mother is a saint.) I don’t know how long those 93 steps took me, but I was determined to take them.
Since that day three years ago, the walkway has become a sort of victory march for me. Every time I take those 93 steps – now at a good clip and in under a minute – I remember that day. And I think about the countless cancer warriors who are walking or wheeling the same path.
Just over a week ago, I had a routine CT scan and checkup at the teaching hospital. The results? CT scan: Clear. Checkup: Perfect.
And those 93 steps? They were like walking on air.