My elderly in-laws were visiting from Michigan when I received the phone call with the MRI results. I had taken them to see friends of theirs and was sitting with them, only half-way listening to their conversation as they caught up with their friends. When I heard the oncologist's voice at the other end of the phone, I knew it wasn't good news and she proceeded to tell me that I had a broken vertebrae in my neck and that there was extensive disease in my spine. My literal next words were, "What's next?" and she told me that a neurosurgeon would be calling me and that a plan was being put together for me.
I closed the phone with a dazed look on my face. My mother-in-law asked me what the doctor said (I had let them know the doctor was calling me) and I quietly told her, "I have cancer in my back." On that somber note, I went ahead and took these four octogenarians out to lunch! I didn't really know what else to do. However, once at the restaurant, I excused myself to sit in the car to make some phone calls.
Calling my husband at his new job with the news remains the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life. He had been at that job for exactly a month and he had to excuse himself in order to go to the car to talk with me and to process everything as best he could with what limited information I had.
The next few days were filled with phone calls and doctor visits. I still have the notes I made from the calls with both the neurosurgeon and oncologist.
I scrambled. It was determined that my neck was too fragile for surgery of any kind and radiation was recommended. I met with two different radiation oncologists and chose the one closest to my home. The radiation to my neck has been the most difficult part of my treatment to date due to collateral damage to my throat and digestive tracts.
The recommended treatment worked! The radiation killed off the tumors and I have close to full mobility in my neck. Surgery was never needed and my science-based oncologist refers to me as one of her miracle patients.
It's been three years since I received that phone call on January 3, 2013. Ever since then, I've been taking daily steps to live with this disease. I've been on oral treatments ... swallowing pills of one form (or quantity) or another on quite the regular basis. Daily, two weeks on, one week off, one week on, one week off, daily again, three weeks on, one week off, etc. Always some kind of schedule to follow. Throw in a few shots that were given on a monthly basis and you have the story of my life for the past three years.
I have had anxiety dreams during these three years ... anxiety generated by the fear of forgetting to take my medication. I have awakened more times than I can count with the thought, "I was supposed to take/do something at xyz time and since I didn't do it, I'm going to die!"
I settled into an uneasy alliance with these dreams ... accepted them for what they were ... and moved on.
Last month, the last oral option available to me failed. It just didn't work and I was switched over to IV chemotherapy. This is the first time I've been on IV chemo since August 2, 2012 and after all these years, I've finally gotten a port.
However, something that struck me is the fact that I'm no longer taking daily "action" against this disease in my body. I take a few vitamins and minerals, but it's not a big deal if I miss a day or two of doing so. I had said one reluctance to go on IV chemo was the idea of being tied to a schedule ... and yet, not following a daily routine of pill swallowing is a bit disconcerting.
You see, living with cancer is a daily affair. Taking those pills were a daily reminder of what I was up against and now I have to adjust to a different way of thinking about it. Will it be easier to do something that requires a once a month (it may be shortened to once every three weeks) trip to the clinic and that's it? Or will it be more difficult to not be doing something every day?
Time will tell.