I had an appointment with my oncologist this week. Between 2006 and 2007, for an entire year, we had a standing weekly date (I use the term ‘date’ loosely…ours consisted of me having my vitals taken, blood drawn, and lymph nodes felt up. All that, and no dinner!). Then, for the first two-and-a-half years after I completed chemo, we saw each other every three months. This week’s visit was actually the first time we went six whole months between visits.
Returning to the place I spent so much time being sick has simply served as an unsettling reminder of the year I spent coming and going from that place all too frequently. However, this time, it was different. This time, I felt a sense of power and accomplishment walking through those doors, because I am not the same person I was when I was emaciated and weak, fighting my way through treatment, and I am not scared the way I was during, and even after, I finished treatment. I have beaten cancer. It has taken me several years, but I finally believe that.
Sure, I finished treatment nearly three years ago, but exiting treatment wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine like I thought it would be. I’ve heard this time period- the first months and years after treatment- called refraction*; all the pieces of yourself are there, but you haven’t yet put them back together in a way that feels whole or complete.
Making the refraction process harder was the fact that it seemed that every six months when I had a CT scan, it showed changes that led me on a multi-week nightmare in which I underwent further testing while doing a mediocre job of holding myself together as I lived my day-to-day life. Was it back? Would this be the time it had spread? Would I be labeled with an expiration date? It was awful. However, eventually, I got used to CT scans being bad news and learned to wait for the follow up tests before I freaked out too much. Luckily, each scare turned out to be just that- a scare. So other than some extra radiation and an exploratory surgery, everything turned out okay.
It’s only been in the last six or eight months that I have come to truly own the fact that cancer is part of my past, not my present. It is actually behind me. I am planning a future without the hesitation that comes with the thought that a five or ten year plan might be pushing my luck. Cementing this belief was my visit with my oncologist this week. For the first time in the four years I have been coming to that place, I was not afraid; I did not feel defeated. I chatted with the nurses who took my blood, and I had a good conversation with the doctor about organic food and the farm. But the best part was when he told me that for the first September in four years, I did not need to have a CT scan! In his departing words to me he said, “Since you feel great, and you’re four years out, there’s no reason to expose you to the radiation. Call me if anything comes up, otherwise I’ll see you in six months. Be well.”
There is something very liberating about knowing I am on the other side of cancer. If you’re still fighting, I can assure you, it is not an illusion. The grass really IS greener on this side of this fence.
Hope, Love, Run!-Marathon Girl
*Refraction- To the best of my knowledge this term was coined by Imerman Angels founder, Jonny Imerman. He says: "We call it the refraction period...it’s that period where...a ray of light – which is you – hits this object – cancer – and instead of being in that same straight line, you really refract it. You’re sort of going off in a little bit [of a] different direction because who you are now [is a person who is] in this group of people that you never thought you’d be in...that refracting...is not necessarily a bad thing and in fact, in many ways I think it’s a wonderful thing and you know, I think my life is ten times better."