Hope, Courage, and Faith? Check.
It’s that time of year again. The sun is shining, sunscreen is spraying, and pools are splashing. This is the season of light when the days seem endless and the nights brief but for me, it’s the time for encroaching darkness. The time to see if my cancer has returned.
I am sitting at my dining room table, staring at camp packing lists. Ellie and Tommy are filled with equal parts nerves and excitement. I am consumed with fear. What if I forget to pack something super important in their trunks? What if they are homesick and want to come home? What if the CT scan reveals my cancer’s hiding place?
I see a small wet spot on the page. I didn’t even realize I was crying. Are these “I don’t want to say good-bye to my kids for three weeks while they go have the time of their lives at camp” tears or “I’m scared shitless that cancer will come back and force me to say a real goodbye to my kids” tears? The tears are for both. The tears are really for the latter.
I schedule my testing at M.D. Anderson the day after the kids leave for camp for two reasons. This date happens to be the anniversary date of my second bone marrow transplant and it also gives me something to focus on besides the now empty and way too quiet house.
I look back down at the kids' packing lists. Tom comes in from his run around the neighborhood and sits down with me. He asks if I feel less scared now since I’ve been in remission for nine years - which is the longest remission I’ve ever experienced by a long shot. I look up at Tom as he pops peanuts into his mouth and realize that Tom thinks he already knows the answer. Who wouldn’t be reassured by this seemingly encouraging length of time? Well, I guess, me.
Like a leading guitarist in a rock band, my cancer strums the chords of terror with ever-growing energy.
This question strikes a powerful chord deep within my soul and vibrates worry up into my conscious brain. I realize that my fear was growing proportionately larger with each passing year of remission. Like a leading guitarist in a rock band, my cancer strums the chords of terror with ever-growing energy. With each passing year of being “in the clear” that is one year closer to the end. Each year of remission is me living a year on my precious borrowed time and each year lived brings me closer to my time being up, all done, no more, bye-bye.
Ellie and Tommy walk into the room. I ask them how they are feeling about camp and they take turns telling me, “fine.” Ellie asks if we can play a family game of Clue and Tommy says he wants to play Pictionary. As they try to agree on a game and our two dogs, Gus and Axl, run wild through the house, I smile in spite of myself.
...in spite of this uncertainty, I’d be okay. We’d be okay. Life would be okay.
I know I’m not ready to say goodbye. Not for three weeks at camp or for a lifetime. I want us to all stay right here together in this room playing board games and watching the dogs play. I never want my life to be turned upside down again but I know that going to do testing means the possibility of exposing cancer and that means everything could change. I know too well how quickly life can be taken and shaken and totally mixed up into a puzzle I wouldn’t even recognize but I also know that, in spite of this uncertainty, I’d be okay. We’d be okay. Life would be okay.
I hear Ellie and Tommy in the backyard throwing the ball for Gus. I’m relieved the game night dispute has been forgotten. I look again at the camp packing list. Socks? Check. Swimsuits? Check. Sunscreen? Check. And then, to the side of theirs, I take out my pen to make a packing list for myself. Tops that will keep me warm in the freezing hospital temperatures but also loose enough so they can push my sleeves way up my arm when they look for a place to insert my IV? Check. Sports bras with no wires for the CT scanner? Check. Pants with elastic waistbands that won’t be too tight over the bandages after my bone marrow biopsy and aspiration? Check. Hope, courage, and faith that no matter the results, I WILL be okay? Pause. Teardrop on the page. Shaky inhale. God, please. Hope, courage, and faith? Check.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.
Caroline is a 3 time stage IV non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma thriver. She has endured two bone marrow transplants and countless rounds of chemo but says that, if given the chance, she wouldn’t change a thing. Today, her life is filled with her husband, two young miracle children and her two rescue dogs.