Grace Under Pressure: Facing the Follow-Up Visit After Cancer

Mike Verano

Ernest Hemingway wrote, “Courage is grace under pressure.” As a cancer survivor, I find that I'm often lacking both, but somehow still manage to do the brave thing. This is particularly true every time I face a follow-up appointment to check for cancer's return.

Every time I enter the, Star Trek-like, capsule that is the CT machine, I go in less like the brave Captain Kirk, and more like Major Weenie. “Boldly go where no man has gone before”? I think not.

Unpredictability is par for the course when it comes to a cancer diagnosis. However, I have found a strange comfort in a very reliable pattern when it comes to preparing for follow-up visits:

One year out: I receive the news that my last scan was negative, schedule the follow-up scan and rest easy thinking, "It is 365 days away; that’s a long time."

Six months out: The date for the scan has Freudian-slipped my mind, and it still feels a long way off.

Three months out: I start thinking, “I should probably find my appointment card that has the date on it and put it on my calendar.” I convert months to days as ninety feels better than three of anything.

One month out: The appointment is officially on my work calendar and I’m careful not to schedule anything too mentally draining that day. Previous experience tells me that I will not be fully-functioning that day.

Two weeks out: Every bump and every body ache is surely my cancer returning, I can feel it growing even as I sleep. What's that large lump? Wait, it's the dog.

Three days out: I can barely feel my toes as the blood is pooling in my brain, trying to figure out ways to cancel the appointment.

If history repeats, I will gracefully keep my next appointment, which, as of today, is 10 months, two weeks and three days away. While there, I will think of all of those other survivors who have returned to their battlegrounds and felt the strange sense of déjà vu all over again. I will probably make an awkward attempt at humor as the technician sticks me with a needle to see what my blood's been up to. I will put on my best brave face and walk out as if waiting for the results is just another thing on my "To Do" list. No one will be buying it; but that’s what I’ll be selling.

Between now and then, I will rest easier knowing that my wife, Kathy, will be sending positive energy vibes my way (these have proven to be even more powerful than radiation) and that family and friends are keeping me in their thoughts and prayers. I will consider what Hemmingway said about courage and come to the realization that I prefer what John "Duke" Wayne said, "Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway." Now that, I get. Giddy up!
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