I haven’t been to the cancer center in six months, and it amazes me that everyone there still knows my name. It’s like my very own, very weird Cheers. Those nurses and front desk staff have meant so much to me over the last four years, and I am so grateful that they use their joy and kindness to serve in a place that can be very dark and scary. Community Hospital Anderson Cancer Center… you guys are beyond description.
Today’s appointment was a bit anticlimactic. I’m always a bundle of nerves going into these check ups. My scan results are “life or death” in an all-too-real way. As my doctor looks through images of my internal organs, he is looking to see if cancer has metastasized. If malignant melanoma ever shows up in my organs, it is likely terminal.
I usually have a hard time breathing while Dr. Reddy pulls up the scans and takes a look. But, not so today! While Dad and I were sitting in the exam room waiting for Dr. Reddy to come in, I heard his voice outside my door. “Who is in this room? Maggie? Her scans looked good. I’ll finish up over here and then go in.”
He went to meet with another patient, and Dad and I had time for a big sigh of relief. Even though we’ve done this a million times before, I don’t think we’ll ever get used to it.
When we did meet with Dr. Reddy, he shared with us that everything looks great. I’m still “No Evidence of Disease,” a.k.a. NED. I am still on track for just one more year of scans. That means a CT in February and an MRI/CT combo next August. THEN I AM DONE. At that point, as long as all goes well, I will no longer be an oncology patient. Crazy.
In so many ways, life has slipped back into “normal.” Rather than visiting the cancer center daily (Dec 2015-Jan 2016) or weekly (most of 2016), I go twice a year. Rather than scans every month or every 3 months, it’s every 6 months. Soon my dermatology will go from 6 months to yearly. As all of these appointments are winding down, I am filled with gratitude.
There were days in the beginning when I didn’t know if I was going to make it, with sleepless nights of research and scary statistics. Then came the surgeries, one after another, each recovery harder than the last. Then, a year of chemo, daily for a month and twice a week for the rest of the year. And I didn’t make it… I quit with one month left because I simply couldn’t do it anymore. My physical and mental health were depleted.
Last week, we were cleaning off the conference table at work with Lysol wipes, and it was the same scent as the Lysol I used to clean my counter at home before prepping for my dose of chemo. During that year of treatment, my mind began to associate the smell with what I was about to do: inject myself with a chemical that would make me feel very sick for about 24 hours, and mildly sick up until it was time for the next dose. I believe the sciency term is “classical conditioning.” My stomach would churn even before I gave myself the drug, and as the year went on, it got much worse than that. It became a mental fight, with half of my brain trying to be rational and remember that the drug was going to keep me alive, and the other half screaming, “DON’T MAKE ME DO THIS!” (Think Dumbledore in the cave toward the end of Half Blood Prince)
Smelling that Lysol last week, my brain instantly went fuzzy and my stomach tied in knots. It was a powerful reminder of the terrible road I walked. But, it was also a chance for me to take a deep breath and reflect on all the ways God provided for me on that journey, through loved ones, drugs, prayers, miracles, meals, doctors, and nurses.
The fourth anniversary of my diagnosis comes up on September 15th, followed closely by the anniversaries of my surgeries. I’ve officially been NED since a surgery in October of 2015. As these dates approach, I plan to post more of my thoughts on making it 4 years and looking toward 5 years, when I will have officially beat some scary odds.
To Dr. Reddy, Dr. Hyatt, Dr. Wagner, Dr. Young, Stacey, CJ, Melissa, Judy, Stanna Banana, Joanie, Ronda, and so many others (oh gosh… I know I’m forgetting at least one or two VIPs): I am so grateful that God — the great healer and sustainer — chose to bring healing and joy through your knowledge, steady hands, and friendship.