The other day, as we ate dinner, my boyfriend finally asked me, “What are you doing?”
I was sitting at our dining room table with my hands under my armpits, Molly-Shannon-as-Mary-Katherine-Gallagher-style. “I’m feeling my lymph nodes,” I replied. It was then requested that I refrain from doing so at the dinner table.
Truthfully, I don’t know what my lymph nodes are supposed to feel like, but I’ve been checking in on them a lot lately. I feel under my ears and press on my upper chest, where the troublesome bump showed up two years ago. Tomorrow I get the results from my second post auto-transplant scan.
In December, I felt little pangs and twinges that went away. They’ve been back lately—a pang here and a twinge there—but they’ve been especially bad this past week.
On the bright side, sometimes scan anxiety or “scanxiety” brings on phantom pains. I have had so many pains leading up to the big cancer-or-not reveal, when I am optimistic, I think that they have to be brought on by my imagination. I may have cancer of the tricep and the ankle, if I am to believe the pains.
That’s when I’m being optimistic, which isn’t all that often. I’m more terrified now than I’ve ever been. If there was a bright spot to having refractory Hodgkin’s lymphoma, instead of relapsed, it’s that I never received the news that the cancer went away. It was present for every single scan, stubbornly refusing to leave. I never had a celebration or the chance to breathe a sigh of relief. For a year and a half, it was always cancer, still cancer, still cancer and finally a big question mark.
The question mark is how things ended in July, after my last scan. There was still a spot near my pancreas that continued to light up after chemo, radiation and the stem cell transplant. The doctor didn’t think it was still cancer, and he told me not to worry about it. And I haven’t, for the most part. Until now.
I haven’t really celebrated remission, because I’ve been uncertain if I have anything to celebrate, and I had a lot of recovering to do after the transplant. Once I recovered, I felt weird and depressed for months. Now I’m pretty much back to normal—or as normal as I get—and now I’m certain that this must mean the cancer will return to pull the rug out from under me again. (That’s probably a good sign at least for my mental state. It seems my outlook on life has once again returned to that of a wary cynic.)
I want more time being well. Now that I’ve had a taste of it, I don’t want to go back. When I went in last week for my PET scan, returning to the hospital and having the IV put in again reminded me of that year-and-a-half. It was just eight months ago when I lived at the hospital, full-time, and I’d nearly forgotten it. The scans, the IVs, the tests—everything seems blurry and dream-like now. (Well, some of it was blurred by morphine.)
I don’t want to go back.
During that time, I felt as if I had to shut off a part of myself to deal with it. Now, I feel as if I’m finally coming back to life. Still, I feel like I can’t plan. Someone asked me today if I had a vacation planned in the spring. Not until I get my scan results.
Everything is on hold until tomorrow, yet I also don’t want to know what tomorrow brings. I would rather stay suspended here in ignorance, even as I torment myself. Is this my last meal before knowing I have cancer again? Is this the last evening I have before knowing I have cancer again?
I’ve been making deals with myself, the kinds of weird superstitions you count on when you have no control over what’s going to happen. If I stay in this yoga pose the whole time, I won’t have cancer. If I make it to the corner before the light changes, I won’t have cancer. My head is a weird place right now.
The very best news I expect tomorrow is that only the weird spot has grown and they’ll want to take a look. Whatever has been going on, the random pains in the spot area seem to be real. And then what? What if it’s something worse? What if, what if, what if.
Regardless of the news, I decided to do something fun to take my mind off any bad news if there is any. I wouldn’t say I have a bucket list so much as a few things I’ve been meaning to do. One of them is to take the tram to Roosevelt Island, and the other is to go to a restaurant in my neighborhood that offers a free mini-pizza with a beer. (Free pizza! My ambitions are low, but delicious and affordable.) No matter what, by this time tomorrow, I will at least have accomplished my life’s more attainable goals. Not having cancer is the main one, but that is not within my control.