A few days ago, I went to see my oncologist for the results of my latest checkup scan, and I am extremely happy to report that I am healthy and still in remission. But the stress that leads to this kind of appointment is always nerve wracking.
For those of you who are not familiar with what the medical follow up after a cancer treatment is, let me share a few things with you.
Once the doctor declares that you are in remission (most likely based on a scan that shows no sign of tumors, or blood work with markers that no longer appear), you then enter a period of five years during which you will remain under his/her scrutiny. And if everything is ok during these five years, then magically you will be declared cured.
Most people think that once you are in remission, everything is back to normal and you are fine. Well… It is not that simple.
When the breaking news of the initial diagnosis hits, that hurts pretty bad. The whole world collapses and suddenly you are facing your own mortality, a little earlier in life than you expected. Once the initial shock settles down, you put on your fighting suit with the support of your loved ones and you start kicking back the possibility of this death sentence. Then, if you are fortunate enough to achieve remission, you can somehow let your guard down a little bit.
But if you relapse – which was my case – the shock of this terrible news puts you down 10 times harder than the first time. And this death sentence that you pushed away so hard and thought was gone forever gets right back into your face. Then again, you recoup, deep breath, you gather your army around you and fight on! If the Good Lord grants you another chance and you achieve remission again, it feels like you can never really let your guard down ever again. At least this is the point where I have been for the last year. Although I survived, it feels like on probation.
My follow up appointments with my doc are a few months apart (I have become so superstitious that I am unable to disclose the exact timeline to my family, even to my own mom! Only my wife – I thank God everyday for Her – knows). In between each appointment, it is like you are given the possibility to resume your life: “You can go now, go figure out life, but don’t forget, I see you in a few months and you might not have this chance again.” Bam!!! This is exactly how it sounds with my doc every time.
As a young adult, husband, father of two little boys and step-father of one teenager, it becomes difficult in this situation to really resume life. Indeed, what do you in between your medical checkups? Do you crawl and hide in one remote place hoping that nothing is going to hit you again? Do you quit your job and go on with your bucket list? Do you call your doc every week to ask him one more scan to make sure everything is still ok? Do you start smoking weed to calm down and relax? That might sound crazy, but all these questions crossed my mind at one point of time (although I replaced the weed thoughts with red wine in the facts 😉 ).
In reality, you just try your best to move forward. It starts with the “one step at a time”. Getting up in the morning, going to work, making it through these 8 hours at the office, coming back home, enjoying the family, and when in bed, at night, thanking the Good Lord for the day, hoping that in the morning, you will wake up, well, with another chance to make it again through a new day.
Of course the anxieties of this probation time never go away, and I don’t think they ever will. I think you just have to find a way to deal with them. In my case, as I picture it for my counselor, it is a matter of keeping the anxieties on the back burners. There are here, in my mind, all the time, but with practice and time, I somehow manage to push them just enough so they don’t obstruct my sanity at every single second of my life. So in the end, I can still move forward.
Moving forward. Again, that’s the key. Regardless of the fears and the odds. There is no other choice. You either accept this, or the fears will eventually kill you. In other words, by not risking to live again, fears will consume you. As much better stated by MLK:
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
Today, I am a few weeks away from my one year post –treatment mark (aka my first re-birthday). And as I am going through this blog that I started last year for the last part of my treatment (high dose chemo and stem cells transplant), I am having mixed feelings of fear and relief at the same time. But I do realize the path I have walked forward, despite all the bumps, and how fortunate I am.
As always, I invite you to keep my friends, brothers and sisters in arms and their families in your prayers. Some of them are now with the Good Lord, watching over us. Some of them are still battling fiercely while others are much better now. Thank you for them.
See you for the next story.