Think back to January 9, 2009. We were all trying to figure out what this new economic downturn was going to look and feel like, Barack Obama was about to be sworn into office for the first time, and the majority of the western world wouldn’t know the name Capt. Sully Sullenberger for 6 more days. I was sitting in my car outside a non-descript doctors office on Medlock Bridge Rd in Duluth, Georgia replaying the past ten minutes when Dr. Gupta had told me, “You have Lymphoma,” and “You will definitely need chemotherapy,” and “You need to see an oncologist, and I think you should go there right now.”
That day has become a pivoting point in the story of me, and I really think of my life in terms of “before cancer” and “after cancer.” The problem though, is that the period I am calling “after cancer” includes all the surgeries, all the stress, all the chemotherapy, all the agonizing rides to the hospital, the uncertainty, and the pain. And while the beginning of cancer was marked with a very precise and memorable encounter at Dr. Gupta’s office, the end of cancer seems far more ambiguous. I wrote on this blog way back when that I was worried I would turn into a hypochondriac and never be content that a cough is just a cough.
Yesterday that changed. Yesterday, I was at Emory Winship (aka The Cancer Factory, thank you Carcinista) for my scan results. For the un-initiated, a quick lesson here. I have been finished with active cancer treatment for 3 years, but the tumor that was the site of all my woes is still inside. They tell me it’s all burned up and calcified and useless now, but it’s there. So it is necessary for me to return to the hospital for a PET Scan about every 3-4 months. This is how the doctors take a peek at my insides and make sure the tumor is behaving itself. And these appointments do not always go as planned. In May 2010, after 16 doses of nasty chemo, and 5 months feeling really good, a scan showed the tumor was raging inside my chest. Another time, about 12 months after my transplant, the scan showed an unexpected change in cell activity. So, walking into this appointment is always a tense moment. They can send me home with smiles and cheer, or they can bring me back into the world of chemo infusions, sickness and fear. It’s a little like waiting to hear a jury announce guilty or not-guilty in a criminal trial. The defendants will immediately take one of two vastly different paths.
So yesterday, the news was good. It was my third scan of 2013 and about the 5th or 6th in a row that showed zero change. I was expecting that news, but the most surprising news followed the verdict. My doctor is comfortable enough with the stability of my tumor that she says I don’t need to return for a scan for 12 months…and when I come back, they will use a CT scan instead of the powerful PET scan. In essence, what they are saying is that my risk of cancer is now lower than the risk of more exposure to the radiation presented in a PET Scan. They are betting on me! This is easily the MOST positive news I have heard about my health since January 2009 and I was walking on air the rest of the day.