Until Further Notice: Celebrating Despite Unending Cancer Treatment

Perspective matters when confronting what the future holds.

It’s exhausting, mentally, emotionally and sometimes physically, to have appointments for this or that many times a month, and occasionally daily for weeks without end. Those necessary, life-extending appointments can force a focus on illness rather than health and happiness. For me, surviving them requires a steadfast and equally exhausting refusal to be dragged down by negative possibilities, and, honestly, as much as I like to see the smiling faces of so many people at the hospital, those appointments sometimes just wreck the day.

But all of that is temporarily, momentarily, in the past.

Today is the first day of three blessed, glorious weeks with no scheduled doctor appointments, no scans and no checks of any kind. In short, there’s no reason for me to even see the hospital. Since it’s only six minutes from my home (both cursed and lucky in this too), it’ll take a little doing, but those side streets are there for a reason.

Although she didn’t know that 21 days of emptiness were highlighted on my calendar, the radiation technician asked last week if I was going to celebrate radiation coming to an end. How to answer? The truth was that I’d started celebrating several days earlier, as the blisters began to heal and the focus of that beam started shooting electrons my way. But I was also holding the celebration in check since the very next day I was scheduled for a 45-minute look at my heart (thanks to one of the cancer fighting drugs) and the day after that for both a check-in with the doctor keeping an eye on blood clots (thanks cancer and the now-missing port for causing this little addition to my life) and the every-three-weeks IV-delivered doses of two hard-working drugs.

It is so difficult to explain that a celebration will be had, but it might be a subdued one. I wouldn’t ring the bell — I knew more was to come and it would feel like a lie to myself — signaling my last day of radiation. Similarly, I will not have a “last day” for chemotherapy.

The hematologist — the doctor checking in with me on the blood clot situation — knows my story. So when he read aloud, in part, the status of my care as noted by the oncologist, I just sat there without comment as he read treatment will continue “until further notice.”

Well, that sounds ominous, he said.

Yes, I thought, it does. But only if you read it without a wider perspective.

I’d rather hear “until further notice” than some of the other more end-of-the-line words that I know very well could be written there instead.

I just smiled though and nodded my head. The moment reinforcing for me the idea that although some people believe there must be an end in sight, a bell to be rung, a blow-out celebration to be had, I know that it is possible to find just as much joy from an “until further notice” celebration of life going on as it has been.

This morning, the sun is out, the birds are chirping madly outside my window, the kids ride their bikes past my front door on their way to school, and I smile at the thought of three weeks without a single scribbled “doctor” anywhere in sight on the May page of my calendar. Of course, there is one, way down there at the end of the month, but like the direness of the phrase “until further notice.” It is easy enough to ignore or view from a more positive standpoint.

The celebration is not on hold. It is every day, every hour, and it happens even during those times when I choose to hide away and recharge. It happens, basically, until further notice and then some.