So chemo is over. Twelve infusions and 28 weeks later, I can safely say I have arrived. Still intact. A bit more fragile. A bit stronger.
I had my first experience of running into someone I hadn't seen for awhile, and giving the abridged version when she asked me how chemo went. Yeah, I was hospitalized with a neutropenic fever over Christmas break, had severe neuropathy, shingles, and lymph cording... it was hell, but I made it.
It was strange, looking back on it like that. The day was sunny, I was strolling rather happily around the neighborhood taking in the tulips, and the fuzz on my head was as downy as a newborn chick. All of the sudden, it seemed as if I had awoken from a really bad dream, the details a bit hazy.
And now to the most Frequently Asked Question That I Am Getting Tired Of Answering. It comes in various forms.
Is it all gone now?
Did they get it all?
So, there's no more cancer?
I know what they mean. They want to know if I'm going to live. And for how long. Cancer is all about "how to talk around death". I appreciate most the people who have understood that to be diagnosed with cancer is to look mortality in the face and have a serious come-to-Jesus talk.
Anyway, here's the answer, as well as I can explain it:
First, the data, from a handy computer program that takes into account your age, general health, size and grade of tumor, and number of lymph nodes affected: With no treatment except surgery, I would have had a 62% chance of being alive with no recurrence in ten years. With chemo, it brought it up to 82%. If I choose to take Tamoxifen, it will bring that up to an 88% chance of seeing the year 2019. Chemotherapy doesn't "get it all". It gets about 99.9% of any cancer cells that might have leaked out of the tumor into my lymph system. It only takes one rogue cell, traveling around and deciding to lodge itself in my bones or lungs or liver X number of years in the future, for the cancer to return. There are no guarantees. It will never be "all gone".
I am an idealist at heart, yes. I see the bright side of just about every godddamn problem there is. I believe the best about everyone. Pollyanna should have been my middle name. If I had to, I could find something positive to say about cat poop!
But that doesn't take away the fact that there's a 12% chance that I won't see my youngest son off to college. You see, this is where cancer takes your mind in the darkness. It's not to be dwelt upon, but it is also not to be ignored.
When one is in the middle of treatment, there is focus, purpose, a singular task. Now that I have been released from chemo and have more decisions to make (more on that later), I find myself in a strange tormented limbo once again.