In a word? Never.
Did you really think that once they signed off on your chart and sent you back into the world that you were officially done and would spend the rest of your days skipping along without a care in the world? I wish too, but even after treatment and the scans are all clear, once cancer cells have been activated in your body (I’m going with the argument for today’s sake that we are all born with cancer cells in our bodies and the question is what causes them to activate), there is always a chance some will re-activate, even if you go through that extra round of chemo after your first clear scan just to be sure (as I did). These feckers are like weeds. Nearly impossible to get em all without destroying your whole yard.
My point, there is noooo way of being sure that you won’t have to ever deal with it again. You should always assume that you might, be mentally, physically and financially ready for it and get screened on a regular basis. For me, that would mean a PET/CT scan every 6 months and a Colonoscopy as often as my GI specialist tells me (which is 3 years from the last clear one). Remember that every cancer is different in origin and the speed to which it will reproduce and spread, but the one thing they all have in common is that if gone undetected they will damage and eventually kill you, so the key to a happy/skippy/joyful life after remission is to be prepared and get screened on a regular basis, period.
I know first hand. This past year we have been watching a tiny blip on the PET scan grow from a spec to just big enough to call it, then kill it. Unfortunately killing it means going through the same routine as before of 2-3 rounds of chemo over the next 4-6 months and Cyberknife on the right lung (where it resides). Yeah, that is sucky and I’m not looking forward to it, but the good news is that as of June 1st, my insurance changed again and I was able to go back to my beloved Dr. H., and it’s long term, so I will be able to stick with him now for the rest of my days (which we expect to be a plenty).
The other good thing about it is that I’ve had a year and a half to get back into the swing of things, so my body and white blood cell count are in much better shape to start with and I know what to expect, so my cabinets are well stocked with everything I’ll need. I even have a good friend coming to spend the month of August with me, so I’ll have someone around who knows when to kick my butt and get me on the bicycle to sweat it out, instead of me spreading across the superlush couch and playing the tired/woe is me card that leads to the over-inflated n flabby/woe is me.
Mentally, I’m good and ready too. Since my last treatment back in January 2012, I’ve had a lot of great, first time adventures, like; I’ve been to the Amalfi coast of Italy and swam in the Mediterranean. I attended my high school reunion. I went to Ireland, where I drove like Maria Andretti, spent (long overdue) quality time with my sister and 3 good friends, drank the best Guinness ever (it really does taste better over there) and played music in an Irish pub with some incredibly adorable and talented guys. I even went on a road trip back home to Seattle to see my Pop and finally cleared out my old bedroom, lugging all that old (and mostly useless) crap back down to San Diego to clutter my current home with. My BFF in tow for the trip up and another good friend for the ride back down. On the way up, we jumped into the (38 degree) infamous Crater Lake and on the way back we stuck our toes in the river by Big Sur. Oh yeah, and I finally took a surf lesson~ I got up (for like 2 seconds) 3 different times even~
I’ve had some amazing experiences over the past couple years that wouldn’t have been possible if not for the advances in medicine, the excellent treatment I received and my determination to make it through this, so that I could continue to check off items on my slowly shrinking bucket list and more importantly, so that I could help to pave the way for others.
I’m just as determined as before. Sure my body doesn’t work as well as it used to and my brain is still a bit (ok, ok, a lot) mushy, but I think about what if I had continued on without getting screenings done…I’d probably have made it another year and then I’d be done for. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got far too many things on my list in life to give up now and I’d much rather hobble through them, than not at all. It means missing out some things I was looking forward to this summer and fall, like the dream of swimming with whale sharks off Isla Mujeres, but meh, so it’s moved to next year. I’m good with that. I’m still pretty chicken shit about being in the open water, I’ll admit. There’s another trip to Ireland that we’d been talking about, next April for a friend’s big 50th birthday and to go back to my beloved Lahinch. Lots to look forward to and you know how important I believe “having something to look forward to” is…
I’ve been waiting to write this on the first day back at treatment, so I could post a photo of it, but with the new insurance plan comes new headaches, AKA referral processing is extremely slow. I was supposed to start 2 weeks ago, but there’s some argument over the need for a biopsy first. If you haven’t heard me say it, those are painful and a bit nerve wracking, so I’m all for Dr. H. trying to convince the ole HMO to keep their money and just go straight to chemo.
While they’re duking it out, I am cleaning house, running around in the sun, splashing in the ocean, sucking down grapefruit mimosas and enjoying raw fish on a near daily basis. I’m pretty sick of em all to be honest. There’s only so much indulging I can do y’know. Every set of chemo drugs give off different side effects. Mine are sensitivity to sunlight (I burn reaaallly easily), sensitivity to cold (anything above room temperature feels like ice cubes) and the third goes for all of ’em; compromised immune system, so no raw fish/meat etc. Staying away from all bacteria and grapefruit, for some reason it has a tendency to interfere with the effectiveness of certain drugs, so there you have it.
There’s so much to say. So many blanks to fill in since my last post in April, but I know my friend Pete would say “it’s gettin wordy” at this point, so I’ll save them for future posts and focus on the message of this one. Once you have had cancer you must remain vigilant and always assume it could return. Stay on top of it with regular screenings and don’t assume you’ve got all the time in the world to get to all those things you said you’d do if you made it through.
Get crackalackin on them today.
My last question (today) for you is “which adventure will you go for next?”
Make it a great one and I’ll be back again soon to fill in the rest of the blanks~
All the best,