Cancer Survivors and Partial Remission: If Only We Could Freeze Time

July 18, 2019

There are times in our cancer journey – and in life – when we want to “freeze time.” I am only in temporary remission, and eventually will have to go back on chemo again. This time it will likely be a new one with unknown consequences.

I think every one of us has wonderful periods of our life where we want to have nothing change. Then there are the other times when things are horrible and we can’t wait for everything to get better.

It was my wonderful oncologist, Dr. Shruti Trehan, who gave me the phrase and idea for this article. I had been through eight years of chemo to stay alive, accompanied with all the fatigue and discouraging side effects we all know. I was no longer able to tolerate the chemo. Meanwhile by the grace of God, my blood levels stabilized except for my red blood count. Presently, I am able to take Procrit shots. Without the chemo, my white blood count has doubled, and I feel great. I have energy I haven’t experienced for, well…eight years.

Now the caveat. My doctors have been very honest and told me the shots may last up to a year. I am only in partial remission, and eventually will have to go back on chemo again. This time it will likely be a new one with unknown consequences.

Meanwhile, my constant companion and soul mate is my hearing ear service dog. She has been with me for the past 11 years every step of the way, from my mother’s death to my diagnosis and chemo treatments.

Two years ago, I was heartbroken when she tore several ligaments in her elbow. I went to a great orthopedic veterinarian, who said he would perform surgery on a then 11 to 12-year-old dog. (She is a rescue and we do not know her exact age.) He explained she was in such great shape otherwise, and he knew how important her job is as a service dog. He could take away the pain, but not the limp. A horrible summer and fall passed where she couldn’t even stay with me for weeks on end, because I have steps to my apartment. My wonderful veterinarian and friends cared for her. She had to be caged after the surgery because she was to be absolutely still. This was heartbreaking for a dog who has flown all over the country, gone to conferences with me and accompanied me everywhere. It was devastating for both of us.

She could no longer come to the cancer center with me because it was too far for her to walk. They are in the middle of building a new cancer center with easier access.

Between my chemo and Sita’s injury, it was a tough time. Gradually, I improved and by a miracle, Sita was able to walk longer distances. She gets massages, chiropractic treatments and lots of medicines. Two years after the surgery, she is able to make the long walk to the Cancer Center again. The staff, who has given her treats for nine years, was elated. The first trip after such a long time, she knew exactly where she was going. She broke into a trot, took the winding turns and entered the center. I took off her vest so she could be petted as the call went up and down the hall that “Sita is here.” My doctor came out of her office, and Sita lay down with four legs in the air begging for a belly rub!

Life is so good right now and Sita and I are cherishing it. The doctor said to me later how she wished we could “freeze time.” I knew exactly what she meant. If only my remission would be permanent. If only Sita wasn’t so old. If only we can stay in the moment.

We all have times like this. Our children are growing up too fast, our parents are slowing down, the cancer may not stay in remission and we know all will eventually change.

And it should. On the contrary, we do not want the bad times — like two summers before when both my dog and I were doing poorly – to last forever either. The only certainty in life is that it changes – along with death and taxes. This is not just true for cancer survivors, but of life. It is these frozen times that are embedded in our memory and keeps us going. So – enjoy these times and remember them forever, even after they are gone. This is what gives all of us hope.


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