Pulling Into the Station (Again)

West Texas Train

I thought this journey was done. I was stage 1, my prognosis was excellent, and the word “cure” had even been spoken aloud when my post-surgery numbers dropped dramatically.

Things can change.

It may be nothing. The slight rise in numbers the past two visits may go down again. I feel great, I’m getting my old speed back in my running and am up to twelve miles, and life seems to have settled back down to some sense of normalcy again.

I’m so new to all of this. I thought as long as the numbers were within the normal range, even though they had gone up slightly the last two times, that it was completely acceptable. And maybe it is. But the red flag of fear came up when the oncologist breezily mentioned that my numbers had gone up a little and that we would “keep an eye on that.”

My brain made a mental note, but it didn’t fully register what that could mean until later.

That night, my husband reminded me that an upward trend in the numbers was important, that it didn’t matter if the numbers were still in the normal range. He also said that when the numbers are so small, a jump from10.4 to 11.8 to 14.2 is significant.

I can always count on him for a reality check.

I also mentioned to the doctor that I’ve had numbness in my left arm for the past year, ever since chemo ended. She didn’t tell me to go to my family doctor to have it checked out, that it could be something minor, but that we would get an arm and shoulder x-ray and “start there.” In other words, she’s handling it. And she’s an oncologist.

So the seeds were sown. I immediately started worrying.

Just as I never once thought I wouldn’t survive surgery and chemo, the thought of it coming back hasn’t been something I’ve thought much about this past year. I was stage 1C, all my lymph nodes were clear, and my 5 year survival rate is pushing 90%. Of course it’s never going to come back! But each three month visit, a few weeks before I have to go in for my labs, those little thoughts of rising numbers start to tickle the back of my mind. The what if’s tease me with the possibilities.

Now I’m slowly coming to realize what cancer is really all about. It may never absolutely go away, no matter how many years of remission or chemo, and with a cancer like ovarian, that has such a high rate of recurrence, the fact is that recurrence is always a possibility. No matter what stage it was caught at.

I had a freak-out weekend, and a good cry, and now I’m reading books about accepting death. It sounds morbid, but it isn’t. I am in no way ready to roll over and call it a day, and have every expectation of living another 50 years, at least. But it has made me more aware of what I’m dealing with. And in a broader sense, it’s forcing me to really accept–and admit–that I’m not going to live forever (even if I always wanted to).

And that’s what I need to work on, accepting that my demise could come sooner rather than later, even if it doesn’t. These slowly rising numbers are a wake-up call, for sure, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s teaching me to appreciate even more every single day of life.

No one knows how they will go. Cancer may or may not be the thing that ultimately takes me down. I could hit get by a car on a run, or have a stroke, or die from the flu. Cancer is nothing more than a very tangible reminder that each moment is precious and fleeting, and not to waste life on things that aren’t important.

Perhaps the train is rolling slowly into the station (again), but I’m going to make damn sure I enjoy the ride before I get there.