Lessons from the Oncologist’s Office

Last week, I cleared my 5th scan.  Huzzah!  With this, I graduate from quarterly to twice yearly exams, and then next December, fingers crossed, my oncologist will give me my walking papers and I will become a happy statistic.  An official survivor.  With every happy scan I find myself breathing a little deeper, sleeping a little better, and thinking a little longer term.  I realized after this scan, for example, that my hair likely will have the time to grow long again, if I wish it.  A small and seemingly insignificant victory, but a visual and emotional bellwether for me about my long-term good health.

While waiting for the results in the doctor’s office, I met a women with triple negative breast cancer.  Also in remission, she has a slightly longer statistical cure date to wait for– five years.  Sitting there, among the other patients, all at least a decade older than both of us, we chatted about our shared experience with chemo hair (curly and not cute), the virtues of our doctor, whom we both adore, and the debilitating anxiety one feels in the weeks and days before a scan.  It brought to light for me the fact that the term survivor isn’t just about living through the physical ailment, but learning how to manage and live with the emotional scares cancer inevitably invokes.  Obviously, I’m a slow learner.   Of course this is why there are support groups and cancer therapists and anxiety drugs, but it has taken me 13 months since my last treatment to realize that, for me,  it might be the emotional aspect of cancer that is the hardest to cure.

And then it occurred to me that, because I’m healthy, I have the luxury of thinking about such things.  When you’re in the middle of treatment, the only thing you can focus on is the immediate needs of your physical self.  How great is it that I have the time to work on my emotional well-being?!  So I will continue to work through my new and only periodic anxiety, and hope that with time, these scars will remind me how truly lucky I am to have escaped cancer’s clutches.  I ran across this Chekhov quote while I was thinking all this through and it made me laugh:

Any idiot can face a crisis, it’s day to day living that wears you out.


Looking forward to wearing it out.

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