I write this because I can, because I’m not superstitious. I write this, however, with an unavoidable trepidation, because coincidences have a way of lodging deep within one’s core, kinda like my cancer. Still, I want to write this.
I’m beyond cancer.
Obviously, I’m NOT beyond cancer, but right now, in some personally meaningful way, I am. It FEELS behind me, and while in the throes of treatment it felt like an eternity, in the present it feels like a significant, but somewhat momentary interruption in my life. To pretend as if there will be no more surgeries, no more chemotherapy, this whole experience lasted about as long as my time in college, which seems so incredibly distant and inconsequential. Maybe I will feel the same about being on the precipice of death in a handful of years. The necessary ability to move on works funny like that.
I had just delivered another bin of groceries to a resident doorstep when I got back in my truck to find my phone ringing. I looked at the display to see my oncologist’s name spread across the screen. I hesitated, not sure if I was ready to take the call, or if I should just get whatever news he had about my most recent scan via voicemail. Whatever it was – hopeful, dejecting or somewhere in between – I couldn’t change biology, so maybe I wasn’t concerned with receiving the diagnosis under the weight of conversational etiquette.
But I did answer the phone. Almost as if my fingers acted on their own volition.
I can’t remember what was said verbatim, but things were said.
“The scan doesn’t show much….I see what the radiologist pointed out…but I don’t see much…could be cysts…body involutes sometimes…even if I saw anything…we wouldn’t take any action…miraculous (I hate when doctors use such terminology)…another scan in 9 months…”
9 months. Another 9 months, from the previous 9 months after my last surgery. That’s what resonated with me as I got back to work, absorbing his diagnosis with a little more depth as I let the words sink in, drawing out a trajectory and expanse of my life going forward. The lightness I felt after the last post-surgery diagnosis lingered, and then expanded. The instinctual visual that develops in my mind with each diagnosis remained, an unobstructed view that stretches into a horizon, no walls or confines to navigate. Where treatment always drew a wall, an unmoving monolith that could not be seen through or past, I now look into a forever, a universe.
I am beyond cancer. I FEEL more beyond cancer than I ever have. I don’t occupy myself with concerns of surgeries, interruptions, halted perspective and objective, a world for my son without a father. I am more whole and less broken than ever. I have ambition and strength, a resurgence of focus on living one’s values and a new appreciation for developing the physical and mental capacity to do so. I feel more capable of living outside myself again, for others.
To remain grounded, however, I am not biologically beyond cancer. It remains, and I will always be, in some way, broken by the experience. Physically if not emotionally. Maybe broken isn’t the right word. Scarred is more appropriate, and visually apparent. It is immediate when I run. The effort is more strained and in a way I can’t understand. The sensation, though, is wholly felt and knowable. I can’t land my stride the same, or toe off the same, as the front of my feet are forever deadened from the poisons of chemotherapy, creating a subconsciously altered contact with the ground, but very real feeling of missing something. A difficult conscious intent is necessary to run with fluidity and form, that wavers as the accumulated fatigue takes its toll physically and psychologically. Even short jaunts in the morning leave my feet sore and burning with hot spots around my heel. I’m left wondering what my limits are again.
But I am not broken, unable to take advantage of my abilities and aspirations. I am just scarred, left with remembrances and impediments, but not obstacles.
I can breathe, physically and psychologically. I can let go of immediacy and plan for the long term, imagining process and progression, in all aspects of my life. And…that’s sort of dangerous. The slippery slope of running progression, of personal challenges, of absurd goals, of everyday accomplishment, of new frontiers still burns somewhere within. The flame never goes out. The light just gets crowded by competing interests, new walls restricting it’s shine, until the flame is just a dull flicker. But when the walls fall away and the oxygen is condensed into a singular focus, the fire grows. I can’t confidently say my fire is growing, but it’s getting fed from time to time and I don’t have many competing interests right now.
What I do have is 9 more months. 9 more months to remain beyond cancer until proven otherwise. This time though, those 9 months feel more like 90 months, and I plan to live accordingly.