It’s probably not back. But if it is, it’ll kill me.
Every six months, I travel to the Bay Area for tests to see if my triple-negative breast cancer is back. It’s nerve-wracking.
I’ve already decided I won’t do chemo again; not because I hated chemo — it saved my life and I’m grateful for it. I won’t do chemo again because the statistical probability that it would be helpful a second time, well, it’s just too low to make sense. And it would put my family through hell, just like it did the first time — only worse.
I’ve told only one person outside of my immediate family about this decision: my librarian friend, Linda. I don’t remember what prompted the conversation, but she gave me an articulate tongue lashing about it. I guess if you surround yourself with books for decades, you pick up verbal acumen that comes in handy in these situations. As she yammered on about pursuing the fight, yadda, yadda, yadda, I remember thinking that the structure of her argument and her elevated vocabulary was worthy of a trial lawyer.
Afterward, I decided not to mention my choice to anyone else. And really, there’s no sense in borrowing worry about something that probably won’t happen anyway. As I said, it’s probably not back.
I’m right across the street from my five-year mark when my risk level will plummet. And in the broader perspective, what are the chances of getting hit with cancer twice? But what are the chances of having two houses burn to the ground or three cars run into buildings I own? All of those have happened recently. It’s been a rough few years.
Of course, I realize that my decision about chemo might change if I’m facing the Grim Reaper in a more concrete way than I am now. At this moment, it’s an image with fuzz all around the edges. I can see the black hood, the retracted scary face, that weird scythe he carries — but he’s blurry. If my results today come back nasty, that image will pop with brilliant clarity – like it did when I was diagnosed and got a three-month prognosis.
In that case, I realize that the prospect of chemo might not seem so bad.
On two occasions, I’ve watched sensible people opt for chemo when their chances were practically nil. Both of them died after having spent the last little bit of time they had left hooked up to poison.
But wait: I never refer to chemo as poison. I think of it as my life-saving elixir, and I sell that story to other cancer fighters, too. I hold that belief as solemn truth, but when even the most optimistic of doctors predict that chemo won’t help, that’s when I call chemo a poisonous choice.
And that’s what my docs told me, back at the beginning of my journey: If my cancer comes back, chemo won’t help. I’ve taken plenty of fool’s errands in my life and hope I have enough sense not to pursue that one.
To prepare for these appointments, I try to spend time in prayer. For me, that means getting still, emptying my mind, and tuning into the peace that is free and readily available to all, regardless of circumstances. To get there, I remember famous historical personalities like Martin Luther King Jr., who wrote masterpieces from jail. Before banging out those beautiful missives, he must have sat with angst, but he turned it into something beautiful and lasting. That image of the black man in a cell with pen and paper, deep in thought, scratching out words, searching his soul, surrounded by injustice and heartache, gives me strength. It calms me.
Usually when I pray, I don’t ask for stuff. I used to. I offered all sorts of trades to get the things I wanted: “God,” I said, “I’ll give you 10 Hail Marys for a passing grade on my math test.”
But I’m not Catholic anymore, and I no longer pray that way. When I want stuff now, I know that it’s up to me to go after it.
But before this appointment, I found myself begging God again. “Please,” I said, “take this season. I’m exhausted. I don’t want to do this anymore.” At 3 in the morning, I’m often awake. I’m snappy with people. I show up late when I need to be on time. I can’t concentrate. I don’t like myself this way.
So, here I am again, in the little chain of events that has come to define a part of my life. It’s probably nothing, but in a few hours, I’ll know for sure.
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