The CAT scan before my five year checkup seems to take longer this time. The RN cannot find a good vein to poke and the juice I had to drink is causing me to have a serious case of acid reflux. The catch of it all is that this year I feel fine, but during my morning wake up I swear I felt a tumor, or was it a swollen node at the base of my ear? A conspicuous spot where my original tumor was located. In a moment my blood dashes from morning coffee to afternoon chemo. I remember the moment my doctor told me that I had cancer and I remember the moment my solid physique began to fade to putty. I remember the moment my faith morphed to rock solid and I remember the moments my Mother drove me to our chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy was a trip destined for 12 every other Tuesday’s; my mother, my stretched out Eukanuba dog food Tee (from my pet store days) and baggy shorts were our only companions. I do not recall my father ever joining me for the treatments but I do recall the first time I ever heard him cry, we were on the phone and he choked out “we will get through this.” He was right.
My three older brothers lent me humor and love. My church gave in a fashion of Christ likeness that would have made “Our Father” proud. Of myself I gave the decision to not be someone’s inspiration for a Lifetime Movie Special, three hours of drama revolving around a sick 20 year old, his supportive family, and a slightly overweight Chihuahua named Gizmo. Only hours after being told “I think you have cancer, and it’s pretty bad,” that I found myself in a hospital chapel in Houston Texas. It was there that God spoke to me and told me that He would get me through this. All my fears of death were gone but for the people within my inner circle – their fears were still present.
The scanner operator is telling me to breath in – breath out – breathe in again now hold it. As my breath is held the device whirls around my abdomen and groin on a seek-and-destroy mission from GE. The simple phrase to a normal person would not raise any hairs, but for all survivors and even folks who never did survive, those words pack heat. The CAT scan itself is not scary for me as much as it is surreal. Every poisoned memory of sickness sloshes to the tip of my brain and I find myself thinking “what if” questions.
Once the nurse enters the room to let me know she is going to start the injection it means that I will soon feel as though I have lost all control of bowels and other personal areas. The warmth of the injection lighting up my insides goes way beyond the elementary school teachings of the “Uh Oh” feeling.
When the scan has finished looking through my body I am asked to stay in the room for about fifteen minutes to make sure that I have no reactions to the juices I’ve drank and been injected with. The nurse tells me some patients have gone into shock, others have had reactions so bad that they have died. Just think, they never even got the chance to go to battle with their ailment.
My first chemo treatment was a long one. I was sitting in a pleather recliner that was tan and I actually wasn’t all that nervous. The nurse led me to my chair and said “this will not take much time,” and soon found a decent vein on the top of my left hand. With saline she flushed the line; simultaneously I tasted the sea that was only 15 minutes away from the center. Soon she hooked up a bag of bright red chemicals to my cord and immediately the contents began to drip from bag to line, line to needle, needle to vein, vein to cancer.
Soon I had to pee and when I did the liquid that came out of my body had a resemblance to Hawaiian Punch. I was fairly certain something was seriously wrong but the nurses informed me it was just the chemicals exiting my system. Six hours later the nurses decided that they would never use the vein on my left hand for treatments ever again. The process that should have taken only two hours had taken three times that and I was getting antsy. Once home I was so tired and clammy. Every drop of sweat had the odor of that liquid they had just injected into my system – it smelled as though I had stopped on the way home to run through a field that had just been doused in herbicide. In the next six months I would sleep more that I ever had in the 19 years prior.
The night before my Cat scan results I never sleep well. I lay in bed, next to my wife who has only known a cancer free me, and wonder what if tomorrow will conclude with six months of needle? This thought is a scary one but I cannot help to wonder if God has completed the work He started in me six years ago. Whenever I fear these appointments I look back on what He told me in that Houston Hospital Chapel – “I will get you through this.” Sometimes I cannot help but wonder if we are through it?
My oncologist office is pleasant and on the table is a basket full of knit hats for patients who need to cover what cancer has so selfishly taken from them. Once I took two, a brown one and a green one. One was for my brother Michael who came home from Brooklyn to shave a Mohawk into his skull to show support of my balding scalp – I believe this was part of his therapy too. He did many things for me during my journey including a painting that completely expresses the emotion we felt while surviving.
The nurses need blood before I can see my doctor and I know this means they too will have to hunt for an acceptable vein. The pleasantly plump, graying phlebotomist named Vicky cannot find a vein with easy access. She tells me “I will have to use this one and it will sting a little more.” With that disclaimer Vicky slides a needle into the plump vein on the top of my left hand and instantly I am reminded of the first treatment that took advantage of that vein and mistreated her. Eventually a voice calls my name and after checking my vitals my oncologist tells me to have a seat.
In this cool over lit room he asks me about my wife, about my dog, my cats, and my career. There comes a point where I want to slap him and yell “Am I OK or what?” Just before I reach that point he casually reveals that “everything is fine” and after next year he will not need to continue seeing me, I am no longer a high risk patient. I immediately update my Facebook status to “Still Cancer Free” and I tell him that I want to continue my scans and yearly checkups with him until I die of a heart attack or car accident – any kind of death that doesn’t involve cancer. His smile shows wisdom and he answers saying “would you like me to continue scanning you until you die of radiation poisoning?” For a moment that sounds like a decent plan.
Thirty minutes later I click on my blackberry to check my Facebook notifications. The tiny 1 ½” screen tells me I have 52 new notifications. I read them out loud and begin to realize how many people went through the treatments with me. The notes say “Love You,” “God is good,” and “Congratulations.” When someone says “Congratulations” to me I am always curious as to what I accomplished? Nothing really, I just did not die. I just believed when He said He would get me through it. I think the congratulations are more deserved towards all the loved ones who never saw the needle but to this day feel the prick.
Hey world – “Congratulations!” Six years and we are still cancer free.