As a reader, I imagine a common thread you have noticed among the three of us is that cancer has lasting effects. We have found that most people think that once treatment is over, we are good as new! This is comical…
Of course, every cancer diagnosis is different, but many survivors are placed in a ‘watch and wait’ status. Generally speaking, this means that post-treatment, your doctor will conduct routine monitoring to detect instances of reoccurrence. For me, this means that I get to check in to the Cancer Center for blood draws, receive an IV drip of contrast, listen to Taylor Swift under an MRI machine, and say hi! to my oncologist. When I was fresh out of treatment, this monitoring cadence would occur on a monthly basis and as time went on with no signs of reoccurrence, these appointments occurred on a less frequent basis. Today, I am three years out (yay!) and we scan for Gretchen every six months. My understanding is that once I hit five years, I can cut my visits down to once a year – but this watch and wait protocol never ends. If you remember, Gretchen is treatable, not curable. This means that she may be on vacation for now, but she will be back for vengeance one day. This is why we watch and wait.
Can anyone really heal during this waiting period? I would say this is one of the most challenging bits of the process, the looming probability of a reoccurrence. The constant feeling of having to prepare to have your world turn upside down again within a single moment. If I’m honest, I don’t think this feeling ever goes away, rather you learn how to cope with your reality. If you had the chance to know your future, would you? In some sense, someone diagnosed with cancer doesn’t get that choice – it is made for us.
Gretchen gave me some pause this past January. The MRI detected a small blip of activity. I think the official report said something like, enhancement is new and remains indeterminate and is potentially treatment-related, although tumor progression is possible. MRIs are an incredibly powerful tool used to monitor potential tumor growth; however, the technology is not perfect. The machines can pick up on all sorts of things, such as blood vessels and post-surgery inflammation. At the time, my oncologist wasn’t concerned and considered me stable, but I felt the words of that official report ever since that day. I kept the results close to my chest. I was convinced that if I did not say the words out loud, then perhaps they wouldn’t come true. No doubt, not the healthiest way to deal with this stuff – but just like you, we are learning along the way. You can imagine my relief when in June, I went in for my follow-up scan and the small blip was gone.
If you are in this awful watch and wait period, you are not alone. I wish I knew how to make you feel better, but honestly, I don’t even know how to make myself feel better. I may look fearless on the outside, but I am crumbling on the inside. The night, heck the week(s), before my appointment my mind runs wild. The moment I am alone under the MRI machine, I silently sit under the machine with tears in my eyes. What I can tell you is that I have found the best way to cope is to take it one appointment at a time. Before every appointment, I sit alone in the sanctuary and reflect on the future that may come. Faith over fear.
Xxx, Until Next Time – Emalee