There’s been joy in the journey, along with the drugs, the endless waiting in chilly waiting rooms, the lab work, shaving my head twice, the CT scans every three months and the steady hum of anxiety in my brain. The time with my husband, kids and grandkids has made it worth every minute of cancer treatment. Bring it on, cancer.
That silly phrase, “Déjà vu,” all over again kept running through my mind yesterday as I drove to the START Center for Cancer Care in San Antonio, Texas, for a PET scan. That’s where I had my first PET scan that revealed the extent of the metastatic spread of my stage 4 ovarian cancer diagnosed in January 2016.
I sat in my black Traverse afterwards, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and washing it down with iced tea from a travel mug. I prayed the scan wouldn’t light up like a Christmas tree (my husband’s phrase).
Now, five and a half years later, afterwards, I ate a PB and J to get my blood sugar back up. My oncologist suspects my current maintenance regimen has stopped working. My tumor markers are trending up, indicating I may be experiencing my third recurrence.
The same prayer runs through my mind, “God, don’t let the scan light up like a Christmas tree.”
Sitting in my SUV, marveling at how good that PB and J tasted, I had no idea what was in store for me in 2016. I was scared. The grim statistic marched through my brain like a funeral procession. Stage 4 ovarian cancer has a five-year survival rate of only 17%.
I wrote in my journal that day, “I go to the car and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It tastes good. Life is good when you have PB and J and you still have time before you know if the tree lit up.”
I still feel that way. I came home and ate a non-dairy Dilly Bar (for those of you who don’t know what a Dilly Bar is, it’s a Dairy Queen delight). My husband served me a blue cheese hamburger because blue cheese is one of the things I can still taste. Then he handed me a Buster Bar (this is not an invitation to discuss whether sugar feeds cancer – I prefer to enjoy whatever life I have left).
I made it five years. Some would call me a survivor. I can’t bond with that label. For me, a survivor has “overcome” the disease. She’s done with it. I’ll never be done. I wonder why we can’t steal the “long-hauler” label used for folks who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 months after receiving treatment for it. I’m a cancer long-hauler.
So what have those five years meant to me?
The birth of my third grandchild, watching him take those early steps with both arms in the air to balance himself, his first Christmas, his gibberish talk, his glorious two-year-old temper tantrums.
A first dance recital. Playing cards. Putting together puzzles. Pretending to be a librarian checking out books. Reading “Pete the Cat.” Eating ice cream. Watching fireworks.
I’ll be here for both my daughter’s and my son’s 30th birthdays. I’ve eaten my husband’s delicious cooking for most of the 260 weekends that have passed.
For those five years I’ve been living my dream of being a full-time fiction writer. I’ve published 10 novels and nine novellas. Three more are in the pipeline. I’m busy writing proposals for three more projects. I’ve written poems and blogs and devotionals. I’ve read hundreds of books and have dozens more on my to-be-read pile and list.
I guess what I’m saying is that there’s been joy in the journey, along with the drugs, the endless waiting in chilly waiting rooms, the lab work, shaving my head twice, the CT scans every three months and the steady hum of anxiety in my brain. The time with my husband, kids and grandkids has made it worth every minute of cancer treatment. Bring it on, cancer.
As I write this, I have a sick feeling in my stomach (no, it’s not all that ice cream). It’s anxiety. I hope to have the results today or tomorrow. If it’s a third recurrence, that’s a different blog. I’ll spend these days writing, just like I always do. Either way, my hopes, dreams and prayers have evolved. My bucket list in 2016 included things like attending a Broadway play in New York, traveling to Europe, visiting the Smithsonian and the Vietnam Wall Memorial in Washington., D.C. and the beaches in Hawaii. We really couldn’t afford all those trips, and COVID-19 shoved me into isolation for a good part of that time.
Now my bucket list involves writing more books, spending more time with my husband, kids, and grandkids, getting more book contracts, writing those three books currently in the proposal stage and reading as many books as humanly possible. And eating more PB and Js and Dilly Bars—even if I light up like a Christmas tree. Lessons learned: Never give up PB and J sandwiches, ice cream, your dreams and most of all, hope.
For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.