It was May 24. Never think I don't remember.
Less than two weeks ago I passed the milestone I'd been told was significant. It's not that I didn't notice but I was busy that day so I didn't actually mark the date in any particular fashion. But I did remember and I did think about it.
May 24 was two years since I had my last chemotherapy treatment.
My Hodgkin's lymphoma is officially in remission and from all accounts is expected to stay that way. But the effects of it linger, almost entirely in my mind rather than my body. (There is still a very small nodule under my jaw that will probably always be there but is not a danger as long as it doesn't decide to grow again.)
They don't talk to you that much about how cancer affects you emotionally. I mean, they do if you go to the support meetings and the educational seminars and all that, but when you're going through chemo you're not really inclined to do anything that requires, you know, movement. And when you're through you want to put the whole experience in the rearview mirror as quickly and completely as possible. So I didn't go to any of those things and figured I'd just move ahead.
I did, but it's not that simple.
Most of what lingers is the anticipation of a relapse, the "waiting for the other shoe to drop." I wake up many mornings with a vague sense of dread, and there's nothing to dread that I know about. Then I realize I'm wondering if there'll be a reason for me to be worried again. Now, rest assured I've been told there is none; the kind of cancer I had responds very well to the treatment I had, does not serve as a harbinger for other forms, and once it's in remission tends to stay that way about 95% of the time. So this isn't a cognitive, rational anxiety. But it's still there.
It's not cancer I'm afraid of, although there are certainly many forms of it more potent and dangerous than the one I had. It's the feeling of helplessness and the treatment that I'm worried about repeating. When FDR said we had nothing to fear but fear itself he wasn't talking about cancer, but he nailed it right on the head. I fear the fear.
But that's not what May 24 is about. It's about marking the time that has passed since the fear. It's about noting that I got through what I had to get through. I cherish the fact that I'm still here and that my life didn't get cut short or suffer some horrible transformation.
For all intents and purposes, compared to other cancer patients I had it easy. I went for five chemotherapy treatments spaced every six weeks, then a year and a half (give or take) of immunotherapy once every two months. Yes, my hair fell out and I was drowsy most of the time. Sure, my fingers and toes went through neuropathy and I had that chemo taste in my mouth for months. If the worst thing you can say about chemo is that you couldn't play guitar for six months, you had a pretty soft time of it.
And guess what -- the hair grew back (for the most part). The fingers and toes still have a slight tingle every now and again, but they can do everything they did before. My taste buds, alas, work just as well as they ever did. I'm the only cancer patient in history to have gained weight in the process. I need to start doing something about that, and I will.
The process is about regeneration. It's about going through what you have to go through and then noting it, appreciating the situation, and not forgetting. May 24 is about the end of something and the beginning of something else. My current life is pretty damn good. That I had a bad year (more or less) in 2017 is the price of doing business. I'll take it.
I still have to go in for PET scans about every six months just to check. Nobody thinks there'll be a problem, but the next one is scheduled for July, I think. I'll go and be anxious for a day or two and then I'll go about my life again. Maybe I'll even exercise. Because being in remission doesn't give you a pass on everything else.
Next year on May 24, I'll be three years out. Maybe we'll go on vacation.