They take our temperature and we go in. Wait, let me backup. We don’t BOTH go in, just me. My husband is asked to wait in the car until my blood is drawn. They tell him they will text when it’s time for me to see the doc.
Welcome to the latest waiting room pandemic protocol.
Another needle in my arm, more blood into various vials. This has been my life for nearly a year. I make it to the little room and await my Oncologist and husband. They both enter around the same time. We are dutifully wearing our masks and, after a few pleasantries, we dive into where I stand with breast cancer.
Where DO I stand?
It’s something I have grappled with since I ended radiation back in May. Part three of treatment was complete, with chemo and a bi-lateral mastectomy being the first two. I am now in the final phase of treatment. I take a daily drug called Anastrozole, and will for the next 5 years.
Dr. Lopez looks at my blood work, examines me and tells me I am doing great. My white blood cell count is STILL low from chemo, which ended back in January. He says this is very normal, but keeps me in the ‘compromised’ group.
I am waiting. Waiting to hear. Am I cancer free?
We chat about how I feel. I tell him I feel physically strong. That I am running several times a week, and walking every day. Even though I have lost a lot of weight in the past year, he says I look healthy and good.
I am still waiting.
We talk about the drug. Anastrozole is an estrogen inhibitor and will lessen greatly my chances of cancer recurrence. This is a fun drug. Well, not fun as in colorful rainbows and floating on clouds of cotton candy while riding the backs of unicorns… Fun as in NOT FUN.
Ladies, you know those intense chocolate cravings where you will destroy whatever/whoever is in your way to satisfy? You know when you get zits on your face, even though you are no longer a sassy 13-year old? You know when you cry at heart-felt cell phone commercials? You cry at lint? Yeah, that kind of fun.
Did I mention the headaches that wake me up at 3:30 in the morning, but not because I challenged a Marine to a drinking contest?
So it’s like PMS. Which sucks. I mean, I don’t even have a uterus!
Still waiting for him to say it
I explain to the doc, as my husband can confirm, that I am struggling with my mental health.
The previous week, I felt like my whole being was getting sucked into a tar pit, struggling to keep from going under. I was depressed. Like full on, don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed-and-see-daylight kind of depressed. For anyone who knows me, this is not a feeling I am accustomed to.
Sure, I have felt down from time to time. Even news of getting cancer was devastating but didn’t send me into the tailspin I felt the previous week.
As I speak, I work out what has been spinning in my head:
*I woke up from my double-mastectomy at the beginning of the pandemic.
*I don’t go anywhere, or see anyone for the most part.
*I am lonely, as I work from home and am tied to the room I broadcast from.
*I am Immune compromised, so considered high-risk.
*I don’t have confidence in this country’s leadership and the pandemic has been politicized.
*The selfishness of people refusing to wear masks astounds and scares me.
*I am heartbroken that people of color simply cannot exist without being vilified. That too many people of color are murdered in cold blood.
*I am disappointed in humans who refuse to display one iota of humanity.
*I am worried about my daughter, who is on the front-lines of activism and the dangers that can go with it
All of this is going on around me, and I realize as I have travelled the rocky road of my cancer journey, that I am waiting to arrive at the ultimate destination with fanfare. With fireworks and celebrations. Big congratulations and pats on the back for a job well done.
What am I waiting for? These words:
“You are cancer-free”
But it doesn’t work that way, at least not in my case.
No big proclamation, and I realize I am let down. Not the kind of let down like when you get stood up for a date, or the kind of let down where you missed out on snagging the last big screen TV on black Friday.
It’s really hard to explain the kind of let-down I am feeling. Well meaning friends have been wondering when I get to make the big announcement. I have been waiting for the same thing.
I can’t stand it, I finally ask my doctor if he is going to make some big declaration.
He is not comfortable with definitive statements. He reminds me that the chemotherapy, mastectomy and tumor removal, and radiation all did their jobs. Now we move forward with this drug and assume I am good to go. He tells me, until there is reason to believe otherwise, I don’t need to still think I have breast cancer.
So here we are. I consider myself a breast cancer survivor, and need to get used to saying HAD cancer. As in past tense.
Steve and I celebrate with the first motorcycle ride we have taken in 6 months. I feel free and need to realize I am as cancer free as anyone.