Tomorrow I have my first PET scan in over a year, the first one since the scan I had about a month after completing my treatment. Normally, I’d have had another one six months ago, but when I unexpectedly (and wonderfully) turned up pregnant with Ada, we had to skip the intervening one.
Am I nervous? I’d be lying if I said I were. That’s right. I’d be lying if I said I were.
“Really? Not even a little bit?” you may ask.
No, not even a little bit.
Quite frankly, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I should be nervous until Ed surprised me by telling me that he wanted to go to my appointment with me. I hadn’t told him about it, and then when I mentioned it, he asked me to send him the date. I thought he meant so that he could take care of the kids while I was gone, but I told him that my dad had that covered already. Then he said that he wanted to come.
“You want to come? It hadn’t even occurred to me that you’d want to come.”
Hadn’t even occurred to me.
In my head, I’m thinking, “Why does he want to come? He didn’t come to the last one. He didn’t come to any of the clinic appointments over the course of the year when they checked my bloodwork and felt my lymph nodes. Why would he want to—”
Oh. I get it.
He’s worried. Maybe not a lot. But at least a little. Worried enough that he wants to be there just in case the news is not good.
Never even occurred to me. I figured I’d go, get the scan, the doc would say I’m still clean, and then I’d go home and pump and dump the radioactive mess they injected into me.
And in all likelihood that is what will happen, Ed said to me tonight.
And I said, “Yeah. But that’s what I thought when my mom had her CT scan.”
And it’s true. I remember the day, the moment, like it was yesterday. My mom had been having digestive problems for many months before someone finally suggested she get a CT scan. They’d been planning to remove her gall bladder because they couldn’t figure out what else could be wrong. But the surgeon said they should take a look before just taking her gall bladder out. So she went for a CT scan. Sometime in the late afternoon of that day—it was April 16, 2002—I remembered that she was supposed to have the scan earlier that morning. So I just called her up from my office (which I shared with three other people), chipper as can be, to confirm what I already knew—that her gall bladder was bad and needed to come out. What else could it be? They’d ruled out everything else.
I asked her how the scan went. She asked me if I was still at the office. My heart began to race. I said yes, and she suggested that we talk when I got home. My mom never postponed a conversation with me. Ever. I was already on the verge of tears when I blurted, “Just tell me!”
“I have cancer, honey.”
Just like that. I can still hear those four words over the phone, over the many miles. “I have cancer, honey.” I lost my shit completely. The only girl in the office with me quietly got up and left.
I don’t remember the details of the rest of the conversation except that she told me she had pancreatic cancer. I didn’t know much about cancer (who the fuck pays any attention to this before it hits your family?), but I knew that was bad. What I learned over the course of the next 24 hours was even worse—the median survival time from diagnosis was 8 months. My mother died on December 19, almost eight months to the day from her diagnosis date.
I have never written much about the days in between April 16 and December 19 of 2002. Much of it was so horrible that I can still barely believe any of us endured it. These words I am writing now comprise the first effort I’ve made to write about the beginning of that journey. I will probably write more some day. But I’ve mostly wanted to forget about it. The end result was my mom dying, so why remember?
So should I be worried about tomorrow’s PET scan? Experience tells me I should (go in with low expectations and be pleasantly surprised… don’t get blindsided… don’t be a fucking idiot AGAIN). Statistics tell me I shouldn’t (fuck statistics—where were they when Hudson died?). My gut tells me I shouldn’t. I’m going with my gut. (And God, I hope my gut is right).
I never wrote much here about my cancer journey, either. When it began, I had this idea that I’d document it all, the wretched moments and the enlightening ones. And while I did write bits and pieces, I never got into the nitty-gritty of what it was like to be a cancer patient. I will probably write more some day. But I’ve mostly wanted to forget about it. The end result was that I got cured, so why remember?
Really. This is where I have been with cancer for the last year. The first ten days after the needle biopsy on March 29, 2012, were terrifying, because all I knew was that I had cancer, but I had no idea how bad it was. I had a terrible tightness in my chest that I was convinced meant that the cancer had already moved there, but as it turned out, it was just the stress of the diagnosis. We’d caught the cancer early, and I was headed for four months of very straightforward chemotherapy, after which I’d be, in all likelihood, cured.
And so it was. Four months of chemo (yes, they sucked, but in the grand scheme of chemo and cancer treatment, were really not that bad) and I was, as far as we know, cured. I started a new job. My hair began to grow back (and is now this crazy mess of ringlet curls that never existed before). I got pregnant with our third child. We moved into our lovely new house after seven long months of renovations. I gave birth to our third child. My illness seems like something that almost didn’t even really happen, like it was something I dreamed about one time. Sometimes I do a double-take when I remember it really did happen (like when strands of my hair fall into my hand and I am amazed at how long they are).
And here we are. On the eve of my first scan in a year. And am I worried? Who has time to be worried? I am chasing a very active two-year-old boy around, nursing a two-month-old every few hours, remembering my oldest child every time I look into the faces of her younger siblings, and trying to keep my sanity through it all.
I am not my mother. Despite my experience to the contrary, statistics really are on my side. I hit the cancer jackpot.
I am not worried. Really.
Famous last words, right?