Not to be confused with the Pink Floyd song that bears the same name or with a really bad pun, considering my mom is about to undergo surgery to remove her cancerous tumor.
Amazingly, a year had passed between the initial diagnosis and surgery. A year filled with pain, fear, treatment, anxiety, waiting, and now anticipation. Anticipation that the day had finally come to hopefully rid my mom’s body of this unwelcome guest.
Mom understood the risks of surgery as best she could. With any sort of neck surgery taking place so close to the great vessels (jugular and carotid), there was always a risk of nicking one and bleeding to death. Another little-known risk was to her voice. There was a very real chance the surgeon may inadvertently clip the nerve that innervates her vocal cords. What did this mean? No more talking. It meant that mom would spend the rest of her life speaking at little more than a whisper.
But, you know what?
A whisper is better than cancer any day.
The surgery proceeded, and mom came through it nicely. I still remember seeing her immediately post-op. She looked happy through the veil of anesthesia and painkillers that had been put on board while she slept. She looked relieved. She looked hopeful. (There’s THAT word again).
The surgeon informed us that the procedure went very well, no major complications and she was able to get what she felt were clear margins. The only way to know for certain was to wait for the pathology to come back and tell us that the remaining tissue was indeed cancer-free.
What the fuck is that anyway?
The past year had been defined by Cancer. Our lives revolved around Cancer. Not a day passed without Cancer making its very presence known. Now we were faced with a possible future without Cancer.
The pathology returned.
The margins were clear.
At a follow-up visit, mom’s oncologist told her the good news, and a decision was made to immediately proceed with radiation as a further step against recurrence and/or eradication of any possible remaining cells.
Radiation. Ick. Treatment would immediately commence and would entail five-day-per-week treatments for a total of eight weeks. 40 treatments. Since all of my mom’s care had been done in the same place, the radiation, while it was feasible to have this done elsewhere, would also occur in the same hospital. Mom wouldn’t even dream of doing it anywhere else. We had grown close to the staff, had gotten used to the 50-minute one-way drive for appointments, treatments and surgery.
When you ask mom what was the hardest part of this entire ordeal, she will always say the same thing: radiation. The radiation sapped her strength in a manner that couldn’t even be approached by the chemotherapy. The radiation was constant, daily exhaustion. The chemo was intermittent and allowed her a “rest period” in between treatments. The radiation was daily. Radiation didn’t take a break. I watched her get even more exhausted than she ever did when she was receiving chemotherapy. Her skin became leathery and discolored at the treatment site. I watched the tumor site change shape, color and size over the eight weeks of radiation.
This shit was intense. Nothing like shooting radiation directly into your body every day for eight weeks. If that shit doesn’t kill you, it HAS to make you stronger. Right? RIGHT?!
The radiation treatments plodded along. Not once did my mom complain. She drove herself most every day to her treatments, only to lay down on the table, get strapped down, get zapped, and turn around and drive home. Monday through Friday. It seemed like it would literally never end.
Finally, the treatments ended.
Another CT scan was ordered. We were old pros in the CT scan arena. Mom probably had enough scans to fill a small room. I’m sure most cancer patients could appreciate this fact.
We met once again with mom’s oncologist. He had the CT scan results.
“Juli. It’s been a long road. We have done so many things only to find ourselves sitting right here. Right now.”
We both stared blankly ahead. My breath caught in my chest. I couldn’t find the muscles needed to exhale. I was hanging on every. single. word.
“Based on the findings of the CT scan, the pathology report and the operative report of the surgeon, I can safely say that you are in remission.”
Doc, if this is your idea of a joke, you are one sick motherfucker. We both looked at each other quizzically. Remission? What did THAT mean? We seemed to have more questions than answers.
What is this remission of which you speak?
Indeed it was true. There was no detectable sign of cancer in mom’s body. The grueling chemotherapy, subsequent surgery and follow-up radiation had actually worked. It almost didn’t seem possible.
I know what you’re thinking.
You’re thinking that at this point, most people would stand up, rejoice, cheer, laugh and dance around the room. I bet you’d be surprised at how seldom that actually happens. Remember, Cancer is like that bad date that just won’t end. Cancer doesn’t know when to just walk away and go home. Cancer stays for a while, sets up shop inside your body, makes itself comfortable. A guest like this doesn’t just leave based on upon your request. With an enemy like this, it seemed almost unbelievable that any amount of treatment could actually work.
Cancer has left the building.
My mom would receive CT scans every three months for the first two years, then every six months for a year, then yearly. Mom didn’t allow herself to get excited for quite a while. As a matter of fact, my mom refused to have her chemo port removed from her chest. She felt like it would jinx it. Mom waited for over a year, until she finally relented and let them remove her port. I’m quite certain that if offered the option, she might have just left the port in as a reminder of all that she had endured and as an amulet to ward off evil Cancer spirits.
As of today, every single scan my mom has received has been clear. Every. Single. One.
My mom has been “cancer-free” for almost five years. Five years without cancer. Five years of a new life. Five years of time spent enjoying life. Five years without Cancer knocking on the door, insisting to come in and crash the party.
It’s been a good time.
It’s been a great time.
Mom will be the first to say that while she remains cancer-free today, she awakens every day asking herself,
“Is today the day that Cancer comes back?”
(to be continued….)