It's almost six months since I finished chemotherapy; almost three since my oncologist gave me the good news that I'm in complete remission. My next appointment with her is December 16th. It only requires blood work, yay. The CT scans require more time, drinking some nasty stuff, and breathing/not breathing on command. The only pain involved is the needle stick for the contrast dye. Well, and the fact that the whole shebang is a pain in the ass.
But you know what? I'd have one every damn day if it meant I stayed in remission.
Notice that I didn't say "cancer free." Unlike some other cancers, Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma (SLL) is incurable. When I signed the paperwork for the chemotherapy, my oncologist pointed out that she had to check "palliative" rather than "cure" under "Goal of Treatment" (or something like that - I really don't remember exactly, to be honest). But she took great care to explain that she had to do that; it didn't mean "palliative" in the sense of "you're going to die comfortably."
Here are ten things about my ongoing cancer experience, in no particular order.
- Thank God for mammograms. That's was the beginning of the cancer dance. That phone call when the nurse tells you that they found "something" and would like you to come in tomorrow for another mammogram.
- I noticed that, at every step of the diagnosis trip, the docs and nurses used the phrase "It's probably nothing."
Step 1: It's probably nothing, but we want you to have another mammogram.
Step 2: It's probably nothing, but we want to do an ultrasound.
Step 3: It's probably nothing, but we want to do a biopsy.
Step 4: It's not nothing; it's lymphoma.
- My veins are recovering from the beating they took from the treatments. If this shit comes back and I need treatment again, I'm getting a port, dammit. After the first three treatements, I got the nickname "Two-Stick Mary" because it always took at least two sticks to get the IV tube into my vein. One of the chemo drugs, Bendamustine (which I called "Bustamovestine") wreaks havoc on veins, turning them into uncooked spaghetti. And not only did I have to get stuck for the actual treatments, I also had to get stuck for blood work and CT scans.
- I've gained 10 pounds. That's okay. I lost 15 pounds in a month, which was one of the signs that I needed treatment. I thought I might ride that for awhile, but I decided that treatment was more important. So, I'm paying more attention to my eating (which means I say "Oh look at what I'm eating!") and trying half-assedly to keep the weight gain minimal.
- Recently I realized that I actually have this thing called "energy"!
- My doctor is wonderful, but the nurses are angels in human form.
- Benadryl stupor is real. It's not really sleep; it's more like semi-consciousness. Almost immediately after the Benadryl infusion, my eyelids started drooping. I'd fight it for a bit, but would always give in. I could still hear everything that was going on, and I was always aware when my mouth would drop open (so attractive!).
- Warm blankets make everything better.
- The worst side effect I had was deep fatigue. No hair loss, no nausea, no digestive problems. I am extremely grateful for this.
- I got a lot of free dessert!
I still have cancer. It's lurking in my blood and bones; hiding out in my lymph nodes. I've scared it away for now, and if the universe continues to smile on me, it will stay scared.