Cancer by the Numbers


The countdown to my CT scan has begun.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Rachel Martin

I like routine. I wake up around the same time every day, watch and read quick snippets of the morning news, and determine what kind of exercise I’m going to take on. I toggle my regimen between a home yoga practice and a two-mile walk. It’s my intention to do something active every day.

On a recent walk, I started counting things around me. The egrets standing in the water went from four to six as two flew in to join the group. Seventeen cars whizzed by, driving way faster than the 25 mile per-hour speed limit. And as my mind wandered, a number that always scares me popped into my head: two weeks until my next CT scan.

It’s during these morning activities that I remind myself how fortunate I am that my body — organs, legs, feet, brain — all of it is working right now. If you’ve ever been sidelined by injury or disease, you know first-hand what it’s like when your body isn’t working. It’s just awful to miss what has always come so easily — and of course, what likely brings you joy. Being stuck in bed. Maybe you aren’t able to walk. Or bend. Or eat. You may experience pain just by putting your feet on the floor. My ability to do my daily workouts isn’t lost on me. I tell myself, out loud, every day, how wonderful it is that my body flexes to do downward dog, or how my feet don’t hurt when they take flight for a brief jogging sprint. Because whether it was side effects from chemotherapy, or a bum knee after a bad tennis game, I know what it’s like to lose your mobility. Even temporarily, it’s lousy.

These thoughts of my upcoming CT scan turned into figuring out how long I’ve been a cancer patient / survivor / thriver. Three years since my first surgery? No, wait – four years? Stymied, I actually used my fingers to count like I did when I was five. Initial colon cancer diagnosis: 2019. First surgery: 2020. Second surgery: 2021. While I’m not a mathematician, I’m pretty quick with easy numbers. But this countdown was throwing me. Was it that short a time ago? Or was it longer? Because the farther away I get from my initial diagnosis, the less likely this cancer will return. At least not from the original site. At least, in theory.

What I didn’t really take into account is that it’s not just 2023 - it’s actually pretty late 2023. So while my second surgery timeline made simple sense, the initial diagnosis and surgery in different years threw me for a loop.

So as of this writing, I am three and a half years away from my first surgery and two years away from my last surgery to remove the subsequent metastasis that landed in my lung.

After my initial diagnosis, my CT scan cadence was every three months. My anxiety levels were constantly off the charts. After receiving a clean CT scan, for a few weeks afterward, I would be elated. But as the next CT scan crept up, two to three weeks out, I would get anxious all over again. There was not a lot of easy living in between such a short period of time.

Then my team and I decided that six month scans would work for me. It would give me more time in between to "live," and the outcomes would likely not be very different in that period of time. But no one really knows, do they? So far, this roll of the dice has been working. I’ve been NED for the past two years.

And as this next CT creeps up, my countdown begins again. Fear and anxiety will permeate everything I do in the coming weeks. Because as much as I tell myself to relax, time stops for no one. Tick-tock.

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