I can’t really explain it. I have ideas for blog posts often, but most of the time they sort of float around my consciousness like wayward balloons and, eventually, float away. Every once in a while a thought will appear and it feels urgent. Like I can’t open my laptop fast enough to start writing. It feels like an exorcism.
Here we are inside one of those moments. Tomorrow I am having a repeat CT scan to see if the “nodule” that they saw on my lung 3 months ago has changed. The general consensus amongst professionals is that this is radiation damage. The nodule is new, since 2022 treatment, we know that and it is in an area that was irradiated. It just makes sense that it is damage.
The problem with general consensus when you are a 2x cancer patient, is that it is not enough. Any margin for the alternative is the grand opening of a whole new world of scans, tests and follow ups. And, as my history is rather cancery, there is still a real chance that the nodule is metastatic disease.
I can describe having had cancer twice like this-
- Picture yourself in a vast desert landscape. There is nothing around you except those sand timers that you flip over to slowly drip a set time away. You are looking at a few hourglasses that have finished and you feel relief. But just beyond them, you see timers that have just been flipped. The clock has just started. In any direction you move, there are some of finished, calm timers and some where you can watch the sand run out, sometimes at a snails pace, sometimes feverish. But there is always more sand.
The proverbial clock just keeps resetting, and at different paces, and levels of severity. In the best moments, all you see is the oasis in the distance, but usually not without some sand timers running in your periphery.
I am writing to you from a vantage point where all I see is timers frantically running out of sand. By this time tomorrow, I will likely know if I have metastatic cancer. For those in the back who don’t know, metastatic cancer is cancer that has spread from its place of origin and is now considered incurable. Terminal.
I realize we could all be in this position at any given time, but in my case, the evidence for poor outcomes is significantly gloomier. I am sort of the perfect candidate for metastatic disease based on my history. Yes, logic would dictate that what we saw on the scan 3 months ago is radiation damage, but intellect does not prevail over reality. And cancer is one real-ass bitch.
In this nightmarish limbo where I currently reside, I have a lot of of big feelings. The most obvious, of course, is fear. Fear of a shortened life span, fear of not seeing my kids grow to be adults, fear of not having lived life to the fullest. This sparks a cascade of emotions that span into infinity.
I have been feeling the uptick of scanxiety for a few weeks now, but have been keeping this feeling to myself, as it almost feels too big to allow outside of my consciousness. How could anyone else receive, process and then help me in managing this level of tangible fear and dread? It is not that I don’t have people around me whom I trust to walk beside me. It’s just that the feeling is larger than anything I can sensibly get out of my brain. Like there is a balloon inside me that is the volume of my whole body cavity. How could you get that out without popping it? It’s too dangerous.
If you have come across me within the last few weeks you may have noticed that I seemed a little off. I’ve been more and more consumed by the notion of a negative test result, and that kind of distraction changes you. It causes me to go inside myself and basically hold my personality hostage. When someone casually asks ‘you doing ok? you seem distracted,’ you can’t answer, ‘oh it’s nothing, I am just perpetually thinking that I am a walking metastatic cancer receptacle, what’s new with you?’ There is simply not a circumstance where you can throw in your existential fear.
From the perch where I sit right now, overlooking potential news of a terminal diagnosis, my mind is somehow both crammed and completely empty.
If I get bad news, just as I can picture myself in a depression so deep that it swallows me whole, I can also picture myself having this crystal clear clarity where my life is instantly reprioritized into ‘what matters most’ order. I picture it in a bibbity bobbity boo kind of way. Just poof! Priorities in order. All extraneous, non-usable matter eradicated. In a way, it almost sounds appealing.
What a novel concept, living like you are dying. It is such a common trope, but it has a multitude of layers. I break it into a few categories:
- Acute- you’ve got a week. This is where you blow your life up and head to the most expensive hotel on the most beautiful beach/cliff, whatever landscape strikes your fancy. You prepare to die there and don’t give a shit how much it will cost to fly your corpse home. Cause you’ll be dead!
- A year- This one still feels pretty easy. You quit everything, eat cake for every meal and take all the palliative meds at your disposal.
- Open-ended- This one is tough. Do you eat a raw, plant based diet, see naturopaths, seek alternative treatments and fight as long and hard as you can in the hopes that a cure falls within your lifespan? I’m not sure I could do this. I sort of see myself still eating cake for every meal indefinitely.
I won’t post this possibly ever, but certainly not until after I get the results of the scan. And there is a huge chance that the results will be nebulous and the hourglass will reset. Or perhaps I will be referred to deeper, more invasive testing. More timers. If I do post this- scan results will be at the end.
What I know right this minute, on the eve of The Scan is that I am scared. My temper is short, my heart rate is elevated at all times. Time feels like trying to hold water with your hands. I do think that I will gain major life lessons through this experience. I always do. They are never novel. I am not the first person to walk this road. But, they always give me something that I add to my tool belt.
I have many fewer shits to give than most people. I worry less about people’s reactions to me and my decisions. I throw way more caution to the wind. Money feels more tangible in the you can’t take it with you kind of way. When I feel unhappy about something I am doing, the solution to whatever that problem is does seem to crystalize quicker than it used to.
I don’t think the recipe for a fuller life is to live like you are dying. It is a terrible place to be. No one should choose to live like the next step they take might send them off the cliff.
I have written and deleted so many paragraphs here because I simply can’t land on what the message of this post is. I am too frazzled to present a clear message. The sand in both the vast landscape of possibilities and within the sea of timers is too daunting to present a lovely coda.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again here. One minute at a time. I have this moment. That is all that is actually real. For right now, I choose to consciously un-furrow my brow and just keep breathing. And take a Clonazepam.
Good news for now. Deep breath. Turn all the timers over for another 3 months.
5 Comments Add yours
Oh, Grace. I don’t even know you, but I am so happy and relieved to hear your good news. Thank you as always for your beautiful writing. The image of the many sand timers is so powerful. Sending ❤ from Minnesota.
My one year was coming up last month. Lying in bed, my fingers trying to learn the landscape of the irradiated breast. So I switched to the non cancer breast. And there it was, a lump. Three weeks until my scan. I felt like you did. In the end, after three tests it ended up being a fluid filled duct. You express so succinctly all the crazy that went through my head in those three weeks. So glad you got good news.
Grateful to hear you had good news. Your imagery of the hour glasses is really powerful. I am in therapy, but what is completely daunting for me is that my cancer diagnosis (Stage 3, TNBC in March 2021), is now a lifetime sentence of worrying about recurrence. I hope in time that this fear lessens to the degree it is today. The 4 month follow up appointments with oncology, the 6 month follow ups with my breast surgeon always come with overwhelming anxiety…then to get the “all clear” is relief only to rear its head a few months later to the next round.
I don’t want to look back on my life knowing that I wasted time and energy worrying about the things I can’t control. But, currently that’s easier said then done.
My hope for you is that you continue to get the “all clear” and three months, turn into 6 months, into annual follow ups. We are our own advocate for our health.
Enjoy your summer with your family and thank you for sharing your journey. It helps reinforce (unfortunately) that we are not alone (or crazy)
div dir=”ltr”>Thank you, Jesus! So Grace, for wh
Bless you Grace! Great news!