Two weeks ago we met with our oncologist and I mean that in the very personal and possessive sense of the word “our”; the man we are placing full faith in as the keeper of our journey into this next phase of life with cancer. We liked him immediately — attentive, mildly nerdy, and very earnest about getting to know us as the people we are, not just the diagnosis that compelled us to walk so reluctantly through his door. We were bubbling over anxious with questions gleaned from our own research and he was rocked forward in his chair asking me to tell him of my love for horses and dogs and the motivations that make a person rescue. A simple, powerful act of engagement about what matters to me, why life matters to me. I found myself sitting a little more upright, letting myself smile, engaging back. There is more to me than cancer.
We spent a great bit of time with him. We learned, we were re-assured and, in the end, we were given hope of the possibility that treatment might not be as onerous as protocol dictates. A genetic test, Oncotype DX, which has existed for a while (10 years, I think) assesses the rate of recurrence for certain types of tumors and thus can determine whether a combination of hormonal/chemo therapy is needed or whether just hormonal therapy will give the same outcome. Until recently, that test was only considered valid for contained tumors (no spread), but very, very recently it was approved for use in cases where there was “just barely” spread to the lymph. Cases, like mine.
We have been waiting for the results of that test for the last two weeks. Any given day, I have been buoyant with hope, crushed with anxiety, dismissive of the reasons I have let this matter, and deadly serious about how much it matters, all while pulling on the rope required of me because there is no other choice — just wait. Where do your wishes go, your hopes, your fears, your anxieties once you have given voice to them? Sometimes, I feel they leave, floating out into the wide, blue sky, dissipating as they go. Sometimes, I feel the pull of a greater source drawing the burden of those thoughts away and I feel relieved. I feel heard. Sometimes. A great deal of the time, I feel those thoughts ping pong around my innards seeking to roost in the warehouse of other vanquished thoughts and feelings, buried deep.
Yesterday we returned to the oncologist and all the night before, when I closed my eyes I saw the piece of paper with my test results, the single number conclusion that would point me through one door, close another. I thought about the innocuousness of it — a plain piece of paper, a single number, placed in a folder, in an office, waiting for me. I wanted to get it over with. I wanted to never know.
But today, I do know and the number is sixteen. Sixteen is a good number, solidly within the parameters of nope, not you, no chemo. When our oncologist opened the door of the exam room, I jumped to my feet, unable to maintain decorum or possibly it was to foreshadow my attempt to escape. Either way, I needn’t have worried. Blocking the door, he peered over his glasses at the chart in his hand and said slowly “Lisa J. Alexander, what does the J. stand for?”
“Um”, I stuttered, “it’s for my maiden name, Jetland”.
“No”, he said. It stands for “JUST SAY NO TO CHEMO!”
And we all burst into tears and laughter and hugs. Because that’s what you should do when it is very good news and you are the recipient of it and what you received has nothing to do with deserving it or expecting it, but simply because that’s the way the next brick decided to lay itself down on this journey.
So, we picked up my prescription (one of many to measure the span of what will be five years of therapy) and I took my first pill last night, appreciative beyond words. Sleep did not come easy and in my half-awake/half-sleepness, I felt the dance of how this drug will re-align the receptors on my cells, telling them not to manufacture the ingredient that feeds the cancer; to keep it dormant, sleeping. I tell my body to cooperate, to let it in, and I tell myself to not be afraid for side-effects, that I will be fine and manage. Because life is good and getting better.