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.

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47 Comments

  1. Thank you for your ongoing courage in calling out the elephants’ names on the ovarian cancer train. Yes, every moment is precious and short and impermanent, but life is good, especially today!
    Kathleen

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    1. I couldn’t agree more. Yes, I panicked a little when I started thinking about the what if’s, but now, a week later, I feel incredibly calm and okay with whatever the future brings. Life IS good!

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      1. That’s a long time to wait! I hope you manage to push it to the back of your mind in the meantime.

        My mum and I are currently waiting to hear the decision on some very important medication that she needs – the meds work but it all depends on whether the NHS will pay (we’re in the UK). Waiting for medical news is stressful, to say the least.

        I will keep my fingers crossed for you too.

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  2. My fingers are crossed for you! My nephew was declared cancer-free about one year ago. He’s mostly his old self again right up until it’s time to go back for the quarterly tests, then it all comes back. I haven’t read much on this after stage. Thanks for starting this blog!

    Did you catch the 60 Minutes story a few weeks back on the doctor using high-speed tumor genome sequencing machines? I found it pretty fascinating: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/billionaire-doctor-fights-cancer-in-unconventional-way/

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    1. Yes, I did! It is fascinating and sounds promising. My doctor told me ovarian cancer, like many, is now being viewed as a chronic disease. It is very chemo sensitive, so you have times of chemo-on, then remission. Sometimes the remissions are years long, sometimes much shorter. Eventually the cancer figures out how to beat the chemo. Since we caught mine at 1C, hopefully these are just fluctuating numbers and I’m not one of the unlucky 20% who get to go through chemo again.

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  3. Hello bloggy friend! I’ve missed you on the interwebs. And I am so sorry to hear about the “numbers.” Love your attitude, though. After all, how would wasteful might it be if we just lived life by the numbers? As always, I greatly admire your courage. You are in my thoughts and I am thinking of great news to come for you.

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  4. Thanks for popping by my blog. I just read this post. Twice. I work in a pathology lab, and see the other end of what you are dealing with on a daily basis. I won’t sugar coat things by saying “it’ll be fine” because no one really knows, do they? But I will send extra prayers, and healing thoughts that your numbers plateau/lower. Thank you for sharing your story. ❤ Keep movin' forward my friend.

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  5. Know the feeling. I finished chemo in december and just had my 1st 3 month check. So far so good. But it always feels like you’re being followed. I will hope and pray your ca125 minds it’s manners and stays low. Big hugs.

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    1. So far so good for me as well, Denise. I have my next three month checkup next week, and though I’m looking forward to seeing my oncologist, I already have that heavy feeling I get before these checkups.

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  6. Hi again! I’ve been checking back to see if you did ok at your check up. I’m hoping and praying that you are busy with life and not cancer. 🙂

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    1. Thanks so much for checking in! I’m happy to report that my numbers went down again and I’m okay. Hearing that from the oncologist was such a relief. It was a huge reality check for me, and a good lesson on learning to deal with the uncertainty of life after cancer. I’ve been very busy so far this year, but hope to write something soon. Hope you’re doing well yourself!

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      1. 🙂 Good to hear! TRIPLE digits ? Holy moly. I was in Arizona with my husband some years ago when he donated his kidney to his brother. We were walking around the desert in 117 temps. Here’s to a cool down for you!

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    1. So nice to hear from you again, Burbs! How is life treating you? And what in the world brought you to Dallas in the summer? I’m looking forward to a trip to Portland in a few weeks to visit the grandbaby. It’s still in the upper 90’s here and I can’t wait to escape the heat!

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      1. I was in Dallas visiting family. They told me it would be too hot in August but I told them it couldn’t be hotter than Virginia Beach. So you know that meant I had to pretend I was comfortable, in fact a bit chilly. Last week we were in Colorado at Rocky mt nat. Park where there was ice on the road in the morning at the higher elevations. Delightful! Life has been good. I’ve gone back to school for the fun of it and have been doing a lot of sewing. Still not running. Please return to your blog, I miss you!

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    1. Thanks so much for the concern. I really should update, but I’m actually doing great. The numbers kept going up, so we did another CT scan–and it was completely clear. No recurrence. A few months later and the numbers are back down. Even better, I have officially passed the two year post chemo mark and remain cancer free, which is huge. Now I go from three month checkups to every six months, and my changes of a recurrence go decrease even more. Best of all: I feel great! Thanks for thinking of me, Nomad!

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