Today is my three-month checkup appointment with my oncologist. My blood work was done last Monday. Today we discuss the results. Every single time I ride the elevator up to my doctor’s office, I feel a bit anxious. What if its back? I know I feel good and I’m doing everything I can think of to stay well, but what if there was one pregnant cancer cell floating around inside me, that I didn’t know about since my last three-month checkup? What if…?
Then I stop myself before I go overboard with my what if’s, and I take a few deep breaths, bringing myself back in to the moment. I will deal with it, I think. If it’s bad news I will handle it.
The elevator doors open and I put on my best smile. I walk confidently to the desk and tell the receptionist I’m here. After a couple of minutes Dr. S’s nurse assistant comes to get me and we go to an exam room. She weighs me and takes my blood pressure. “Every thing looks normal,” she says. “Dr. S will be in shortly.”
No sooner did she leave and Dr. S came in the exam room. She is always cheerful and upbeat. My oncologist is a dead-ringer for Kyra Sedgwick… and oh, so smart. I am fortunate she is on my wellness team.
As usual, I search her face for any signs that today’s news might not be what I want to hear. There is nothing that leads me to think there is. But then again, I think, she probably hasn’t read my blood results yet. The next few minutes we talk about her daughter. She will be a year old next month. Dr. S asks about my family. She got to know my son and hubby quite well when I was sick, but hasn’t seen either of them in years. I am well enough to drive myself to my appointments, but for nearly a year I couldn’t sit down, let alone drive. Getting back my independence was a huge incentive for me to keep going when I was in treatment, no matter how miserable I felt. I am lucky my neuropathy isn’t bad enough to affect my driving (although my husband thinks I wasn’t the greatest driver before cancer). I can feel the gas and brake pedals if I wear flat shoes.
Dr. S opens the computer screen to pull up my chart and I go back to the thoughts inside my head. Once you are a stage four cancer patient, you will always be stage four. Some cancer patients in remission remind me (more than I care to hear), “it’s not if, but when.” I refuse to think that way. I am healthy today. I am happy to be alive… right now.
Another patient who is cancer free for 11 years, once told me, “The treatments might give you cancer down the road and could take up to 20 years to manifest.”
“Thanks for the optimistic point of view, ” I tell him. I already knew before my radiation treatments started that cancer was a possible side effect (shouldn’t they say collateral damage?) I knew the risk going in, but I will not allow myself to dwell on it.
Dr. S turns to me and says, “It looks good. Your numbers are normal.”
I respond with a “Yay!” Deep down in my gut I knew I was healthy, just like I knew something was seriously wrong with me before my correct diagnosis. Back then, I wanted to believe all the doctors who got it wrong, because they told me what I wanted to hear. Now I know better. I know my body better than anyone and from now on I listen when it talks to me.
I leave my doctor’s office and schedule my next checkup. Its set for August. Other cancer survivors tell me they experience the same anxiety I did today. No matter how long we are cancer free or what stage our cancer was, we all hear that same voice ask, “What if its back?”
Be well and eat healthy!