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Well Visits: A Day in the Life of a Cancer Survivor
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Well Visits: A Day in the Life of a Cancer Survivor

Today I feel as if I have some unfinished business, though I am not quite sure what it is.
PUBLISHED October 06, 2016
Kate Beland does not believe that cancer defines her. She is an athlete, a marathoner, a mother, a wife and a writer. When she is not conducting her three-ring circus act, she is busy kicking late stage melanoma's butt and keeping herself sane through her writing and running: https://www.facebook.com/runningandcancer/ or www.runliftbreathe.blogspot.com
I sit in the usual two hours of traffic on a Friday morning to get into the city more relieved that I have this routine down pat. I know exactly how much traffic I will sit in outside of Boston and then, exactly how much I will be in in the city, even though I will be only 2.8 miles away from the cancer center where I see all my doctors. Despite the stress of traffic, I am optimistic that this will be another “well” notch on my belt.

I stop in the hospital lobby to grab the cheapest and hottest cup of coffee before I make my way to my first doctor’s appointment. It’s always crowded with people, even this early in the morning; most people are medical professionals.

This time, I am less nervous than the dozen other tests, pokes and prods I have had this past year. This time, I remember to bring my laptop so that instead of wasting time on Facebook and other social media, I am here in the now and can maybe document one of these visits that I now do alone, just because that’s how I operate. Sometimes, I think my independence is a curse. Today, I feel blessed for it. Today, I feel as if I have some unfinished business to work on, though I am not quite sure what it is. I sit in the lobby and start to write this piece.

Surprisingly, my habit for being early has paid off, as I am called in a few minutes later with the other patients. An older gentleman looks at me surprised to see I’m just like him. Today, I blend in like all the other medical professionals coming into the city dressed well with a laptop and looking fit and healthy instead of blending in as a patient. I smile back and tell him good luck and today is a great day to be alive as I head down to my room.

Before I know it, I’ve already stripped down, been poked and prodded by my specialist and the Harvard medical student of the month. I’m happy to see this student is a female. I’ve had one too many male students; I was beginning to worry about the percentage of female medical students. In a flash, I’ve dressed (this visit is the first one I didn’t sweat so much that I look like I just came in from a run).  I am quickly on my way to the next doc. Maybe I am getting good at this, keeping calm and just going down the “to-do cancer well list.”

I head out of that building and back to Yawkey Way for my next appointment with my oncologist. I pass the same bagel place I always do and think too bad I don’t eat bagels, I’m starving. I was one of the healthiest people I knew before cancer, so you can bet I have continued that streak, especially staying away from processed foods like breads that make the swelling from the lymphedema worse.

Up I go the elevator to the seventh floor. I remember the first time riding up this with my husband and seeing “Cancer” next to the number seven. I still notice it every single time. It’s bizarre how the mind can play tricks on you and give you those moments of disbelief. I think now I am more in touch with all that I have gone through. It almost astounds me now, a year later, more than ever. It’s like someone who has been in the dark for years and finally got brought outside with the full sun beaming into their eyes. I don’t think that disbelief ever goes away.

I check in to my specialized oncology desk and see that my oncologist is running 20 minutes late. Unfortunately, I have never seen this lobby not packed. It makes me so sad that cancer is a business that is not going away.

I am then called in to get my blood work drawn. I laugh with the same guy with the very cool, maybe Jamaican accent about how I still have to look away while he fills all those vials of my blood. He says, “It’s probably because you didn’t like it the very first time, so now that’s in your mind.” It sounds so poetic with his accent and it strikes a nerve.

Funny, because that’s exactly how I am feeling about being back in the city. I am at ease just about anywhere but in this city. There’s something claustrophobic about it, and now, like my buddy in the phlebotomy wing suggests, my visits here are associated with being a cancer patient. It sure explains why I never spend any time down here after my visits. I’m only a few blocks away from some great tourist attractions, restaurants and the freedom trail. For me, the only freedom trail coming out of this cancer center is doing buck-80 on 95N and getting back to my life that does not involve being a cancer patient.

But, I am alive and well and these next three years, I will always be a “cancer patient” going in for my blood work, getting my pet scans and dropping my draws for pokes and prods all over. 

That’s a hard thing to swallow for all “well” patients who are “cancer-free.” We are afraid to go back to the other side because we know the truth of metastatic disease, and we remember what we have survived and how bad it has been and how bad it could be. These “well” visits, as great as they are when results are cancer-free, are a constant reminder of cancer, the one thing none of us want to think about.

As I sit here waiting to get my results, I realize that I still have much work to do for my “well” cancer visits. I know what my unfinished business is. It’s time for me to move past the “fight or flight” mentality and face this transition head-on. Sometimes it’s just easier to go, as fast as you can once you’ve checked everything off all the tests for the day. For me, if I stay too long, I might have to feel, and sometimes that’s just too much. But today, I am feeling strong and perhaps ready to start a new chapter on these well visits.

And so after I receive all my “no evidence of disease” results, I head out to the heart of the city, grabbing a sandwich to go as I walk amongst the crowds to head out to the freedom trail. I get lost with all the tourists in awe of this beautiful and vibrant city that is full of life.
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