This morning I woke up, and I had to check in with myself. Today is the day I will receive the results of my PET scan. I have already received the biopsy results, so I know I have metastatic carcinoma, but the PET scan will tell me if I have a little bit of it, or a lot of it.
I said last night that I felt kind of like a contender in the Hunger Games lottery. Will I get sent back to the usual difficulties of District 12 (i.e., metastatic cancer and its own particular problems), or will I get sent to the pit to fight it out and maybe be killed in the process?
What I actually felt this morning, however, was that ridiculous fountain of bubbling joy that I have had for months, and which seems completely irrepressible. What a gift this has been! It honestly feels like if they give me really terrible news today, I will still feel this overflowing joy and happiness! I will say, bring it on! Let’s fight this and see what wonderful places it leads!
I recently sent my daughter one of my old Bibles, one I had loved and highlighted and written notes in. She told me when I was on my way to the PET scan that she had opened it that morning for a word for the day, and it opened to Job, so she immediately closed it. I laughed then. But this morning I reminded her that Job went through his suffering and was healed, restored, lived a long and happy life afterwards. I also reminded her that you can’t really just read Job and believe it, because most of it is the erroneous speech making by Job’s friends who did not understand the reason or purpose of Job’s suffering at all, and leaped to a whole lot of erroneous assumptions. Yeah, just one of the ways in which the Word of God is not always really the Word of God. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Anyway, I took a shower, and got dressed. I chose my tee-shirt with the elephant on it, that says, “Dream without fear. Love without limits.” I put on my makeup, which I don’t usually do these days, cause you know, we pretty much stay at home because of covid. I put on the bracelet my daughter gave me the last time I fought cancer, which says, “What Cancer Cannot Do: cripple love, shatter hope, corrode faith, suppress memories, silence courage, steal eternal life, conquer the spirit, kill friendship, destroy peace, invade the soul.” Then I put on the elephant earrings that my younger daughter made for me. They say that if you have an elephant figurine, you should keep it sitting so it faces away from you. That way it protects you instead of trampling you. Don’t know if there is anything to that, but the way the elephants hang on the end of these earrings, they are each facing out to the side from me. Like protectors.
I love elephants. I first fell in love with them when I read Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult, and learned what intelligent creatures they are, how deep their feelings, how strong their love. I have been collecting them ever since.
So I am sitting here now, at my kitchen table. My daughter is sitting here with me, and my grandson is playing in the living room. I’m going to go clean my deck in a minute, because the weather and a tree have made a big mess out there. The weather is supposed to be nice today, mild temps, no rain.
I know when I am supposed to get the call from my doctor, because his office actually made an appointment for it. It is a little less than three hours from now. The thought of it does actually give me a knot of anxiety. But having had all this long time now to anticipate whatever results there may be, I actually feel more prepared. I have thought about all the possibilities, all the outcomes, all the roads I may have to walk, even about the end of the road. I have dreamed dreams both asleep and awake.
Today also happens to be the anniversary of the day my dear friend’s 17-year old daughter was killed in a car accident. We call each other Soul Sisters, because we have the shared experience of grief over losing our daughters, and because we have also shared a wandering faith path through this wilderness. This is just another bit of synchronicity.
Seven minutes now until my appointment. My phone is activated for wireless cell calls, but I have been wandering around the house looking for the most bars I can find. Never more than two. I have my little red notebook and a pen in front of me. My daughter’s phone just rang. Scared the living daylights out of me!
I’m sure the doctor will be late. Doctors are always late.
Still haven’t cleaned my deck.
Still no call. Stomach is tied in knots. Still not unhappy, but very anxious!
Checked my phone. On and working. No missed calls. Do these doctors know what they do to us?
I finally broke down and called the doctor. He then retrieved my chart and said, “Let me read you the results. No lung nodules,” he said, “nothing substantial in the thoracic parts, belly nothing….” Honestly, it was all way more confusing than that. My chosen oncologist is on maternity leave right now, and the doctor who is babysitting me kind of talks in circles and wanders, so it’s not always easy to understand. And lobular carcinoma in itself is what my breast surgeon called a “sneak attack cancer.” It grows in rows of cells instead of clumps of cells, so tends to be really hard to visualize in an image until it gets to be a really good size, like it was when they found my original breast cancer.
Lobular carcinoma also tends to be slow growing, so even with the length of time I have had this, it still seems to be small and localized. The oncologist’s recommendation, having seen that it hasn’t spread, is that instead of doing infusion chemo, that I do oral chemo, pills taken three weeks a month, and an injection once a month, and lots of follow up. No chemo port needed.
I have to tell you, I left that call feeling like I had been given a clean bill of health. The words almost left my mouth: “All that for nothing.” I was so relieved, I almost forgot I still have cancer.
“So will this cure it?” I asked. “Well, whenever cancer reoccurs, that makes it a chronic disease,” the doctor replied. I knew this, of course. I didn’t ask that question: “what is the prognosis?” Maybe some other time. Stage 4 breast cancer has a 22 percent five-year survival rate. But mine is small, contained, slow growing. I think I might live a very long time. I think I might get to see my children settled, see what they do with their lives, watch my grandchildren grow up. Just yesterday, I told my six year old puppy Zelda, “I am going to outlive you.” Now I believe I will do just that.
So how about that?
The chemo pills, CDK4/6 inhibitors for metastatic breast cancer, have a list of side effects that sound a lot like traditional chemo, but we shall see. I can’t even remember what the shots are, but I will be meeting with my regular oncologist’s nurse in our local hospital, and I’m counting on her communication skills to give me the information I need until my doctor gets back from maternity leave. But it appears I will be able to keep my hair!
Meanwhile, this has worn me out, so I think I just might take my bubbling fountain of joy and happiness and take a nap!
Thank you everyone for your love, your prayers, your thoughts. And to God, thank you and please let me know what it is you want me to do next!