Last year, I found myself faced with the frightening prospect of actually having cancer. Four months’ worth of test results came back consistently negative and I was given a six-month rest. The fact that cancer may not inhabit my body right now doesn’t even matter to me anymore. What does matter to me is that I am living with the crucial kinds of cells and scar tissue that could eventually present me with the reality of having cancer. This is something that will never go away.
And, with that, the dread and apprehension will never go away.
My father was diagnosed with cancer years ago and has since been declared free and clear of any potential return, at least in the near future. But his particular kind of cancer was nothing I ever had to worry about, being as I am a woman. I thought nothing more of cancer after his recovery. All of the cancer in our family has been of the self-inflicted variety, from excess smoking and alcoholism. Then last year, in the midst of my second round of tests, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Her particular kind of cancer is something I will always have to worry about, being as I am a woman. She and I are no longer on the same side of the boundary line because of it. The only difference between her challenges and mine is that she has already crossed that threshold, that great divide that separates her from me – as a cancer survivor.
Me? I’m a cancer candidate. And again this year l find myself in the waiting stages. It’s only January.
This is my third round of tests in the past twelve months and my second biopsy in only six. Not much is different in terms of my emotional handling of it all, except that now I have actually seen the mental and psychological torment that cancer can cause. I have seen how it can turn one’s seemingly shifting yet progressing life into one of hurried and limited events. I have seen the physical recovery from day one to month two and the relief one’s body must surely feel at being rid of the monster. I have seen the tears and shaking hands in the moments after those phone calls…the ones that replace your exhaustion from worry and anxiety with an overwhelming yet short-lived sense of elation.
I only say short-lived because…well, there’s always the next test. Sometimes they go away, the tests. At least, I hope they do. My last test was a week ago and the results are still unknown, along with the results from my biopsy. However, my doctor suggested I schedule something in another six months if only because my medical history with him is so lopsided and inconsistent. My doctor and I have established a good connection between us though, the kind that a woman can only wish for when she is forced to expose so much of herself in such an intimately impersonal, uncomfortable, and awkward kind of environment.
He and I, we have a goal. And it involves numbers and keeping my number count as low as possible. They’ve been creeping up and finally stabilizing, but there’s movement. Even when I’m consciously in charge of numbers in the most hands-on and practical sense, I can barely grasp the concept or their importance in my life. This time and in this circumstance, I have to leave control of my body’s numbers to the actual inner workings of my body. I have accepted this fact and I have also found myself bargaining with my physical insides, pleading with them and promising to take much better care of them than I have been in years past. I reminded them of why I quit smoking so many years ago and how I do my best to not swathe them in pharmaceutical chemicals or excess amounts of red meat and liquor so that they’ll have a better shot of making it to their natural expiration date.
Is that too much to ask?
No, I don’t yet know the results of my latest round of tests but it’s been on my mind a lot. Although I’m optimistic, cancer is one of those realities I cannot escape because I am constantly being reminded of the potential for such dire news each time I feel a twinge of pain where pain shouldn’t be or when I find blood where blood shouldn’t be. I go on with my daily routines, doing my best to remind myself that nothing needs to change until it really needs to change. By that, I mean I’m doing a poor job of convincing myself that life is no different today than it was the day before I went in for more tests.
Life will never be like it was that day, ever. I just want to keep living on this side of the divide, with the candidates. Because, when you really think about it, unless you’re a survivor, that’s what we all are. Candidates.