I had my regular check-up with my oncologist yesterday. I have these every three months, and they basically consist of blood tests, a chat and a physical exam, checking lymph nodes, etc. It is now a year and a half since I finished treatment, and at every checkup I get a reassuring, “everything looks good,” from my doctor. But I now get my lab test results online before my visit, so I had a couple of questions.
There was only one thing in my labs that was outside the range of normal, and that was MPV (mean platelet volume), and it is low. So of course, I look it up on Dr Google. And Google tells me that it can indicate a problem with the bone marrow — specifically that it can indicate breast cancer that has spread to the bones. Then I notice the cancer antigen test. I’ve never really understood this test. Normal results are 0 to 25. Mine are well within normal, but they have increased each time. I have only three tests in the online database, but they went from 10 to 11 to 12.
So after a checkup and an “all is well,” I ask about these two tests. My doctor says the MPV doesn’t mean anything, that he doesn’t pay attention to it. I told him was Dr Google said, and asked, “Is Google lying to me?” and he basically says yes. Then I ask him about the cancer antigen and its upward creep. More specifically, I ask, if someone has never had cancer, is the test result 0? He says no, it doesn’t work that way, and they don’t have a cancer antigen test from when I had active cancer, so they don’t even know if my specific cancer causes a rise in the antigen.
So how do they know if your cancer has returned? Well, symptoms I guess. But that’s tricky because I didn’t have any real symptoms before I was diagnosed with cancer. “Do you have any bone or joint pain?” he asks. Well, yes, my hip, my back, sometimes my leg and knee. In fact, I often look longingly at the clock in the very early morning hours hoping it is time to get up because lying down hurts. That, he said, is most likely due to the Arimidex I take to help prevent my cancer from returning. One of its most common side effects is bone and joint pain, and it’s not a constant or severe pain, so it’s probably just that.
So I left feeling kind of unsettled. I had always thought that these checkups every three months would keep me safe. Now I’m not so sure.
It’s not that I suspect my cancer has returned. I don’t think that at all. Actually, I have noticed that I have been feeling a lot better lately. The depression is lifting a bit. A couple of months ago I had come up with the answer to the question, “If you could go back and change one thing in your life, what would it be?” My answer was that I would have prevented my parents from getting married. That would mean I never would have had to come here at all. Now that notion is starting to feel strange. I’m here, and it’s okay. Life, with all its hurts, is okay. It’s good to be here. It’s good to love my family. I’m learning some things, I’m growing again — kind of like a curly vine, maybe, but growing.
But it gives pause.
I know people will say get a second opinion. And today I think I will call those people who run my medical insurance. They have been bugging me throughout my cancer journey, calling and saying they want to help me and answer my questions, and I always said that’s okay, because I had a ton of doctors already. But maybe I will just call and ask about these tests.
Here is a creepy thing, though. Last night my dreams were populated largely by people I know who have died. Not Michaela, by the way. But even in my dream I took note of the fact that I was dreaming about people who were dead. Then this morning one of the first things I come across is a Ted Talk post by a friend, which is about the experience of dying, and one commonality is dreams about people who have died. And again, I don’t think I am dying, and I don’t think my cancer has returned, but it was a creepy coincidence anyway.
The point, however, is not dying, but living. We will all die, and you generally don’t know how or when or why. I think we can live better if we live with that knowledge. In my last blog entry on self love, I talked a bit about this, and about the things I have been learning. I talked about how one of the side effects of cancer for me was questioning the value of my life, my contribution. Had I fulfilled my destiny? I didn’t think so, because I hadn’t done anything grand. My destiny has always involved writing, and I had no best selling books to my name. But I realized that I do still write. I don’t gain fame or fortune from it, but I do write, right here. And people have told me that it has made a difference to them. So there, destiny fulfilled. Because the deepest lesson I have been learning is that it’s not all about me.
I am also learning to be satisfied with what I have. This is a broad thing, reaching into many parts of my life. There is no point in being miserable about the things that are hard in my life right now. Just accept them gracefully, learn, do my best, and do it happily. I mean, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Materially as well, I have been learning this. Cancer was a financial hole, but it’s okay. For one thing, it has helped me learn to be able to receive, but for another, it has made me realize that I don’t need a lot of things. For one thing, I don’t need to eat as much food! I do not need to keep buying new books. I have tons of them, tons still in my to be read pile, and three rooms with full bookshelves of books, and my memory is bad enough that I could happily reread all of them and still wonder what’s going to happen next.
These are good things. I just wish I’d learned them many years ago.
“All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purposes.” This, too. I’ve struggled with God and faith mightily through the years, but I have decided to just love God and give up the need to analyze, define, and pin down every little thing. When I pray, I feel like I am having a conversation with Someone. When other people pray for me, I feel it. It makes a difference in my life. It may or may not heal me. It may or may not bring back my missing child. But that’s not even the point, I realize now, because I have come to the knowledge that this life is not all about me.
I wish I could impart the internalization of this to everyone I love. It relieves so much pain, so much anxiety. We do what we have to do. It’s when we fight against it that it becomes painful and scary. When you have to change a poopy diaper, you have to change a poopy diaper. You can do it happily and with love, or you can bitch about it. Either way you have to do it. One way it’s unpleasant, and creates more unpleasantness in the one whose diaper you have to change. Another way it can be a time for smiles and giggles and happiness.
It’s a hard lesson, though. I know I always rejected Eastern religious thought because it was all about moving past the ego and desires, but now I get it. I mean, I am not up there by any means. I am no saint. I can be a selfish brat sometimes, but in my heart is that glowing coal that pulls me back and warms me when I am cold: It’s not all about me.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Michaela lately as well. I’ve been having fantasies about what it would be like to see her, to hold her in my arms again after all these years. Doors are opening. Where they will lead, I don’t know. Maybe they aren’t about Michaela at all in the end, or about me, but I think they are leading somewhere. I will just have to wait and see where that is.
Anyway, my friends, if you are going through something difficult, I hope you can have it revealed to you that it’s okay. You are learning something. You are teaching others something. You are giving to the world. And you are loved. Many people I know are encompassed in this thought, but let me single you out, Beth. Brave, beautiful, full of love and a light that shines on others even in your own darkest times. I don’t think I could deal with what you have to deal with and still be the cheerful presence you are in the world. You are an inspiration. You count. You have made a huge difference in this world.
And I love you, and you, and you and you.
God bless us, every one.