Like a kid who has had too much sugar, I notice a familiar fidgety, irritable feeling without understanding why. Did I get enough sleep last night? Is a migraine lurking? Am I stressed out about work? Maybe I just need chocolate.
Then I look ahead a few days on my calendar, and I know why. It’s time for a checkup.
For me, this time comes around about every two months. I see my doctor, have my port-a-cath flushed, and get the dreaded blood work – dreaded, because what I’m most afraid of is that my tumor marker level will have increased. In my particular case – and this isn’t true for every breast or ovarian cancer survivor – a significant increase means something is probably going on.
The irony is, I really love seeing my doctor. She’s funny, smart, reassuring and generally a great person to be around. And I always feel better after I’ve seen her, no matter what the results. Of course, it would be better if I were just meeting her for lunch instead of a checkup.
It’s a weird kind of existence – hard to explain to someone who hasn’t had cancer. Every time I have a good checkup or a good scan, I feel like I’ve just won two more months, and I sort of plan in my head what I want to get done before the next one.
And inevitably, I don’t get it done. So the next appointment creeps up, and the house isn’t organized or the art class hasn’t been taken or the writing hasn’t been done, and somewhere – just beneath my consciousness – I’m a little bit worried. Worried that there’s another test or more surgery or more chemo just around the corner. And then when will I take that art class or write that book or go to Italy?
It’s funny. I rarely consciously worry about cancer. Perhaps since I’ve had it more than once, it just kind of lurks in the background. I don’t know whether it’s age or experience that has transformed those earlier moments of true panic into a kind of low-humming anxiety.
We, who have experienced cancer, will always measure life – to some degree – in befores and afters. Before the diagnosis. After the chemotherapy. Before the crummy CT scan. After the recurrence.
And then in increments: One week cancer-free. Eight months. Ten years. Rarely will we hear the word “cured,” although in reality, many of us are.
So, I won’t be surprised next week if I hear the cancer is back, and I won’t be surprised if I hear it isn’t. Either way, I know I’ll be OK. Please say a little prayer for me, if you’re the praying type, and please let me know if I can say one for you, too.