It was a simple question; one that I thought was worth dropping to my oncologist because of how many other people had asked it of me:
When I’m done this fourth treatment, how do we test whether I’m cancer free?
I mean, there would be testing right? They must have some super high tech thing-a-ma-bob that does a violating scan of my body to tell me that, “yup, we got the rascals.” After all, at this point I’ve experienced some brilliant wack-a-do machines doing some bizarre things to me in order to help conveyor belt me though this experience, so I was expecting the final machine to be Steven Spielberg impressive.
But, the answer I received was as simple as the question I posed:
“We just assume we got it all.”
Wait… what? Assume? As a kid I was always taught that ‘assuming’ had implications that would make me look as bad as the person I was having them towards; well, that and it gave me the rare accepted opportunity to swear while rhyming off how it made an “ass of you and me.” So when the Oncologist looked at me and used ‘that’ word, I immediately felt myself morphing into Donkey from Shrek, “is this another one of those onion things” you know, a final cancer puzzle to challenge my chemo addled brain?
My oncologist gave me a highly amused look that she uses with me often and explained their assumption is based on my four months of ugly chemo, two months of radiation, twelve months of Herceptin, remaining in hormone treatment for 5-10 years and their countless years of research.
Although it made perfect sense, it still broke my heart a wee bit to discover that being considered cancer free was being pinned on the fact that she was following a formula from some dusty old textbook from her fourth year in med school. Like Hermione concocting a spell from her Book of Spells; simply follow the steps, add some personal flair, release a dramatic abracadabra and voila, cancer free.
In order to give myself a chance to process this grand assumption, I sat down in the cancer center atrium and took a mental inventory:
4 Major treatments with all their glamorous side-effects,
Countless pills, needles, and invasive poking,
1 Heart being put into failure
And 10% of a lung now nuked and now useless, shattering any dreams of being the next American Idol,
Trusting that all of the above worked… priceless.
I dropped the word ‘assume’ and replaced it with ‘trust’. Trust in the experience of my healthcare team, trust in the know-how of the hospital staff and trust that when I said at the beginning of this journey a happy ending was my one non-negotiable during this unpredictable experience, that that is exactly what I am getting.
It’s natural to desire a guarantees in life, but it’s when I rely on non-existent absolutes that I become inflexible and things tend to go wonky. Life is fluid, ever changing, and choosing to role with it instead of resisting it, makes the ride so much more enjoyable.
So, looks like you are all stuck with me… because I am cancer free. Trust me.