If it’s not over until the fat lady sings, I would like to know what time she’s scheduled to take the stage. What’s that — there is no schedule? The fat lady sings when she’s good & ready and not one minute before? She is a diva.
The idea of all of “this” being over is a recurring one. By “this” of course I mean cancer and all its dangling, hangey-on-y ways of lingering and permeating myriads aspects of life. I was reminded of this (because cancer and its many tentacles are never far from my mind), while reading one of my new blog friend’s blogs. His wife just had a mastectomy in northern California, and he posted on his blog to tell all of her friends & followers that the surgery was over. He actually used the phrase “it’s all over” and then chuckled at and corrected himself, knowing full good and well that they have miles to go before they sleep, as Robert Frost so eloquently wrote in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
Oh, how I love that poem. Robert Frost was a total stud. The imagery he creates, seemingly effortlessly, resonates to this day. I’m totally in love with the image in my head of his horse, which he carefully crafts with such an economy of words. I can see his horse’s big, gentle eyes, beseeching his master and wondering what in tarnation the pair of them are doing hanging out in the woods on a cold, dark night. I can almost hear his harness bells’ jingle, and I’m swooning over the phrase “easy wind and downy flake.” Love it.
While some first-rate poetry is a nice distraction, the subject remains. The idea of “being done,” or “it being over,” doesn’t really apply to cancer. As I pondered Paul’s blog post I realized this truism, and even though I’m a rookie in the “cancer journey” I’ve learned a lot and I know this to be true: it’s never over.
Here’s the thing: the “cancer journey” is long. It used to be the road less traveled, to quote Mr Frost again, yet nowadays is more and more common. Too common, as every day the numbers of people diagnosed continue to grow. For breast cancer alone, the chances of getting it have risen from 1 in 20 in 1964 to 1 in 8 today. In less than 50 years, our chances of contracting this damned disease have leapfrogged considerably. Which means more and more people will find themselves on a “cancer journey,” and I wouldn’t be surprised if those numbers continue rising.
Another things I’ve learned on my “cancer journey” is that someone keeps moving the finish line. I’ve only been at this for 10 months, yet have seen my finish line recede, sidewind, and fade into the distance. It starts even before diagnosis, with the testing that’s done to determine if we do indeed have a problem. Get through those tests, which in my case were a mammogram, an ultrasound or two, and a couple of biopsies. Then there’s the actual diagnosis, and getting through that becomes an emotional obstacle course. Following the diagnosis are lots of research, soul-searching, and decisions. But even when those are through, the real work is only just beginning. After the big decisions come still more testing (MRI, CT scan, PET scan, blood work, another biopsy), and that’s just to get to the point of having surgery. Get through surgery, then through recovery, and just when I think I may be getting “there” I realize that even after recovery, I gotta learn about re-living, which is kinda different when “normal” has flown the coop and there’s a new status quo involved. You might think that finding the new normal would be the end, but guess what? now there’s the maintenance and screening. If you’re the kind of person who makes a list and takes the necessary steps to reach the conclusion, you’re screwed, because there is no end. I can’t even see the goalposts anymore.
I’ve learned this much on my “cancer journey.” I’m trying to stop looking for the finish line, to avoid squinting for the goalposts, somewhere off in the distance. Since it’s never truly over, I’m gonna just keep on truckin.’
I’ve been a pretty good girl this year. I’ve smiled at fussy babies in checkout lines at HEB. I did my time at the grade-school class parties (not my scene, to say the least). I called the collection agency back — yes, I really did — when they left me a message saying I owed money on a past-due hospital bill that my insurance company says has been paid. I donated nearly-new clothes & home goods to charities multiple times. I helped out with the school fundraiser, even though I really, really, didn’t want to. I’ve said please and thank you and bring my own bags. I was a big girl and good sport about all the trips and baseball games I missed this past summer.
And while we’re on the topic of this past summer, dear Santa, do ya remember all the hell I went through? It all started on April 27, 2010, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Talk about an “aha” moment. The timeline quickly unfolded like this: the rest of April and first part of May were consumed with tests, tests, and more tests: BRAC analysis, CT scans, x-rays, PET scan, bone scans and MRI. In case that’s not enough acronyms for ya, there was also the L-Dex and then the genomic typing of ER/PR positive and HER2 negative. More injections and blood draws than my poor left arm’s veins could keep up with (literally; there’s a permanent knot in the big vein). Countless appointments with the breast surgeon (Dr Dempsey, who is on the “nice” list) and plastic surgeon (Dr S, who may be on the naughty list), and 3 different oncologists.
Meanwhile, there was research to be done and crushing decisions to be made as I prepared for surgery. The phrase “life and death” took on a whole new meaning, sweet Santa. There’s a strange juxtaposition between packing school lunches and signing field trip permission slips while also filling out my medical directive and living will. I learned pretty fast how to act normal when everything around me had been turned upside down. I think, dear Santa, I also did a pretty good job of adjusting and adapting to the new normal. I think, fat man, I’m still doing a damn fine job of that. One quick look at my profile tells you that there most definitely is a new normal around here.
Santa baby, I was a good girl after the double mastectomy and the lymph node removal that left me battle-scarred and weary. I was an especially good girl in the face of the plethora of prescription drugs I could have used & abused. I was a diligent girl when it came to choosing green drink over Diet Coke, all-natural hormone-free yogurt over Blue Bell.
Santa, I was a brave and good girl when the nasty infection set up shop in my still-raw chest wall. I endured the 103-degree fevers, 22 days in the hospital, multiple tissue excisions and untold poking & prodding without much complaint. I missed the comforts of home, my dogs & my kids more than words can say, but I only cried twice. And even then, it was when no one else was around to see.
We don’t even need to recount the 18 days during which I was attached to the wound vac 24-7. I would really like, dear Santa, to permanently erase that memory from my grey matter, por favor. But I would like to remind you that I was a trouper during the home health days, and all those hours that were consumed with wound care and the administration of IV antibiotics. And while I’m at it, can I get a little shout-out for not killing Dr S, even though he probably deserved it?
Oh Santa, I do crave some credit for all the antibiotics I’ve endured — and continue to endure. From the Vancomycin to Cefapim, from the Cipro to the Zyvox, from the Biaxin to the Bactrim and Minocycline. Those last two will be part of my daily routine for a few months yet, but I’m already looking forward to the day in which I don’t have them on my kitchen counter anymore.
So Santa, how about we make a deal? I’ll set out all the milk & cookies you want in exchange for one little thing. All I want for Christmas is to have it easy for awhile.