The lingering effects - the bouts of panic, the worries, the flashbacks - have grown fewer and farther between as I've neared the end of treatment, which has been Herceptin every 3 weeks. Of course all through this I’m confronted with my mother’s situation, and my impulse has been to run away, and pretend that’s not still happening…as selfish as that sounds, so that I can try to truly feel, even if just for a second, at peace. But that is a story that is not fully mine to tell here, so I won’t. I will say it has added a complicated, compounded set of emotional layers that not many would understand, including me.
Aside from all that I find it harder, now, to put into words the perspective I’ve gained. It was easier to write about the minute-to-minute bewilderment that constituted about 11 months of my life. Now fourteen months have gone by and much has blurred.
It is only when writing to a new cancer pal from Chicago that I find myself expressing myself with any candor, a candor I can barely muster these days on the topic of “How are you doing?” Not many understand what I'm feeling, or this exact phase of things, except this pen pal, who is at about the same stage as I am. (If she’s reading, hey R!).
So, to friends and family wondering how things have been going - and me and my vague, "Good!" response, if you've caught me in person, hasn't shone too much of a light, I suppose the following, taken from an email to R, will help explain.
I read an article recently describing having had cancer and it said it's like being in a constant dual state of vigilance and denial. I thought, That is precisely what it's like. I wonder if I'm just in denial about it, but I've been telling myself (with the help of good ol' lexapro) that it's muscle aches, not bone pain, because they ease up with stretching and movement and yoga. Then I tell myself it's our mattress and the way I sleep, then I tell myself it is my chair at work (all of the above suck). I'll mention it to my oncologist tomorrow, but I don't want him to get alarmed and order scans and I'm terrified something will show up and then boom, just kidding, you're not done at all! I'm overall afraid of that happening actually. As much as I'm thrilled this is the "final treatment" I'm just waiting for something weird to happen. For me to get there and they don't have my order in, or my doc has to reschedule, or something. I've had so many of those mishaps along the way. And so many "milestones": end of radiation, end of AC, end of Taxol, end of surgery....only to continue on with other punishing treatments. It's like a 1.5 year long game of crying wolf: I'm done! Just kidding, I'm not really, I still have xyz...
I'll spare you the rest but that's the gist. Anyhooters let me say now, after my last treatment about four hours ago, that I really am done (of course the back pain eased up like 2 days before going in and my onc said pain that moves around and eases up is ok). I am praying and hoping and praying - that this is truly it. No more oncologist visits until a checkup October, then 2-3 times a year keeping tabs on me.
I’m finding it hard mustering enthusiasm yet again, so I’ll just end with this: with gratitude and relief, I can put away that numbing cream I slather on my port for when they stick me with needle, which I superstitiously ordered too much of a couple weeks ago. I can file away the paperwork with the Dana-Farber logos and the folders with smiling young women and pink font, and I can rid my day planner of DF appointments until the fall.
Hallelujah, for now, at this moment, I can finally say, no more.
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