Monday, November 14, 2011

The End

I woke up this morning with sweaty palms and a racing heart. It was 7:15 AM, and I needed to get my boys up and ready for school.

Six and a half more hours.

At 1:45 PM, I'd be walking into Memorial Sloan-Kettering to learn what would be in store for at least the next three months of my life. Will I be able to start putting the pieces back together, or will my body need to be poisoned and beat up again?

For the next hour and a half, I kept myself busy dishing out waffles and milk, wiping faces, packing lunch money and driving my babies to school.

Now what?

It was only 8:45, and my mind was already on overdrive. The what ifs were taking over the positive thoughts, and I felt the panic attack starting in my chest. I didn't want to deal with my feelings until I had to, so I forced myself up the stairs and went back to sleep for a few hours.

At 1:00, Jimmi and I were in the car and on our way. We drove in silence for most of the trip, mainly because I was busy answering "good luck" and "thinking of you" texts. My friends and family have been so caring and supportive over the last few months. I hated the thought of cutting myself off from them, once again, if I were to receive bad news. As horrible as it is, that's been my way of handling the cancer experience. The more difficult things would get for me, the more I would withdraw and hide from the world. Not the best coping mechanism, I know, but it was the only one that would keep me from biting peoples' heads off out of sheer anger and pain.

We walked into the cancer center and greeted the familiar receptionist with a smile. "Results day," I reminded her as Jimmi and I headed toward the elevator. "Good luck!" she called after us. The doors opened, and we stepped inside. Jimmi pushed the button for the third floor and the doors closed. We didn't move. A few seconds later, the doors opened again, but no one got into the elevator. "That's weird," I said to Jimmi. He looked at me and joked, "Wonder who's in here with us." Without even thinking, I said, "Maybe it's my grandma."

I was referring to my mom's mom, who died of cancer when I was 10 years old. After seven grandsons, she was thrilled when she finally got me. Her only granddaughter. I know I was very young when she passed, but I remember her so well, and I think about her all the time. I know she's been with me through this journey, and it made sense that she'd want to be with me today. For a brief moment, I was comforted by the thought of her presence. Then the elevator doors opened on the third floor, and the familiar, yet indescribable smell of the waiting area hit my nose and brought on the psychosomatic nausea.

I announced myself to the receptionist, and he handed me a clipboard with a checklist to assess how I was feeling. Stress level? about a nine? Ten seemed a bit too dramatic, even for me.

Jimmi and I found my mom sitting on a couch in the corner. She looked as uneasy as I felt.

"Suzanne?" called nurse Nikki. Here we go. Jimmi and my mom went down the hall to waiting room number two as Nikki took me in to get my weight, blood pressure, heart rate and two vials of blood. "Relax!" she commanded as she watched the heart monitor hit 103 beats per minute.

I joined my support team when Nikki was done, and shorty after, we were all called into an exam room to wait for Dr. Gorsky. Jimmi, my mom and I were laughing and making jokes as we waited, and then we heard the sound of high-heeled shoes clomping closer and closer to our door. The handle started to turn, and the three of us became instantly silent. Dr. Gorsky was only halfway through the door when she announced, "It's all good news!" "Really?" I asked, hardly believing her words. "Yes. Your scan was clear." It took a few seconds to really process what she was telling me, but once I had, all I could do was say, "Thank you for not making me wait too long to tell me that. Am I allowed to cry?" I looked at my mom, who didn't bother to ask permission. "I'm already doing that," she said as the tears welled up in her eyes.

Dr. Gorsky had said the words "Your scan was clear." But it meant so much more. With those four words, she managed to say, "Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" all in one.

"So I need to come back in three months for another scan?" I asked. The doctor looked me in the eye, smiled, and said, "You need to live your life. Then, sometime in February, when you get a chance, you'll have another scan."

Live my life. I can live my life again.

Another question. "My 8 year-old keeps asking if he can kiss me on the lips. I've been telling him no because I don't know about my immune system and germs. But he asks me every time I tuck him in at bedtime." Dr. Gorsky laughed and jokingly scolded me, "Kiss your son! Do whatever you want to do!" I couldn't wait to tell Justin. He'd be so happy!

My mom asked a few more questions until Dr. Gorsky finally said, "Let's not worry about that now. You had a bigger monster to fry; and you fried it. For now, consider it fried."

We thanked her, wished her a Happy Thanksgiving, and headed out. "Wait!" I said to my mom and Jimmi, "Do you mind if I go into the chemo suite and say hello to Mary? I want to tell her about the scan."

I opened the door to the area of the building that, for the last few months, I dreaded the most. But I had to see my favorite nurse. During my last day of treatments in September, I promised I'd visit and give her the news. As I walked into the suite, I pretended I was wearing blinders. I didn't want to see the IVs delivering poison into helpless veins. I didn't want to see the patients whose skin looked pale and grey. I didn't want to see the shiny, bald heads or smell the combination of latex gloves and alcohol prep pads. Finally, Mary made her way to where I was standing. She was holding an IV bag of saline with her left arm, but that didn't stop her from giving me a tight hug. "You look great!" she exclaimed. "Is everything ok?" I gave her my good news and she wrapped her arms - or arm - around me again. "I'm so happy for you."

As we were leaving the building, my mom asked me to call my dad and give him the news. I dialed the number and waited to hear his voice. "Daddy? I got a clear scan!" I figured he'd be happy. I figured he'd say, "That's great!" But I never would've guessed that my big, strong, manly father would literally burst into tears that would render him unable to get any words out at all. "Daddy?" I heard the sobbing on the other end of the phone. He managed to squeak out, "I'm so happy, Sweetheart. I'm so happy."

I proceeded to text everyone I knew as Jimmi drove us home. But I had one more call I needed to make. I dialed my ex-husband's number. "Can I please speak to Justin?" I asked when he answered the phone. "Sure," he agreed as he called our 8 year-old to the phone. "Mommy!" That voice melts my heart. "Hi Monkey! I have good news for you!" No, my kids didn't know I had a scan. They didn't know I was waiting for results today. Honestly, I don't think there's a need to give them a reason to think their mommy might get sick again. The news I needed to give Justin was special, just for him. "What is it, Mom?" "Well, I talked to the doctor today, and she said you can kiss me on the lips!" My little boy screamed with excitement so loudly, I had to take the phone away from my ear. "Really? I can?" "Yes, baby, really." "Hooraaaaaaaaaaaaaay!"

I felt so loved.

Today was a turning point for me. I know my battle is far from over. Every three months, I'll go through the same agony of scanning and waiting. As long as all stays well, every three months will turn to every six months until five cancer-free years have passed. That's the goal.

Right now, I have good news. Right now, I'm cancer free. Right now, I'm making a fresh start.

That's why I'm choosing to end my blog now.

Today not only marked the end of seven months of Hell, but also the beginning of the rest of my life. I need to close the book on the negative and open a new door to what will come. I need to focus on living one day at a time and stop obsessing over this disease that has taken away too much of happiness already.

I will sign off now with the hope that the words I've written will give at least one other person the courage and strength to fight this evil monster...

and win.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Scan Day

Tomorrow is scan day. My first CT scan since treatments ended.

I'm scared.

Well, I'm not actually scared about the scan itself. I'm scared to hear the results on Monday. Monday will decide whether or not I'll be thankful on Thanksgiving. Monday will decide whether or not I'll have a merry Christmas. Monday will decide whether or not I can hope to have a happy New Year.

The odds of Small Cell Neuroendocrine Carcinoma coming back and/or spreading are higher than I'd like to admit to myself. It's not your average type of cervical cancer. The treatment for Small Cell is very aggressive to combat the level of aggression of the disease itself, but the problem lies in the lack of research and test cases. You see, Small Cell is so rare that the doctors really don't know how to treat it. What I have is basically like a lung cancer in my cervix. The doctors don't know if it's best to treat it like lung cancer or cervical cancer, so they shoot it with both guns and hope for the best. But they don't know what treatment has the highest success rate because there really haven't been enough of us out there to test. Even my surgeon said he'd only ever seen three cases of Small Cell at Sloan Kettering.

I'm a guinea pig.

So, my scan tomorrow will cover everything from my pelvis to my abdomen to my lungs. If the news on Monday is "all clear", I'll be free to live my life for another three months until I'm scanned again. But, if Monday shows return or spread of the cancer, discussions of my options will begin.

Honestly, I don't think I'd be able to handle going through chemo again. I haven't had a treatment since September 30th, and I still don't feel like myself yet. The good news is that my hair is starting to grow back. I almost look like I have really short hair on purpose, instead of having really short hair because it's growing back from nothing. I even noticed some new growth under my armpits, which were the first places to lose it. I'll admit, it was very nice not having to shave for a few months, but I'm not going to complain about starting up that habit again!

Yes, the hair growth is great; and feeling a bit better is wonderful. But the best part about being off of chemo is having my kids back. I don't think it's possible to explain how hard it was to know that I wasn't capable of taking care of my babies. I could barely take care of myself. I saw them when I was feeling up to it, and they even slept over a few times, but it wasn't the same. Now I'm back in their daily lives. I'm cooking for them, helping them with homework, taking them to the doctor, cleaning up after them and doing their laundry.

It's amazing how the things I used to complain about doing have become the things I'm learning to cherish.

I don't want my life to change again. I need to get back to being me. Jimmi and I still have to go on our Honeymoon. We still have 12 frozen embryos sitting in a lab, just waiting for us to be their parents. I'm only 36! There's too much I still need to do! Dealing with the possibility of recurrences, spread, more chemo or dying young are not on my list.

Oh, please, let this scan be clean. I'll be asking again in three months, but for now, I'll take it one scan at a time.

Let it be clean.

Let it be clean.

Let it be clean.