Saturday, June 30, 2012

One Year

How should I begin?

Do I celebrate?  Do I contemplate? Do I let the day go by unannounced, unnoticed, uninvited. One year and nothing has changed. One year and everything has changed.

I want to stay positive. But I want to admit that I hate having cancer. Hate that the illusion of certainty and security has been stripped bare and that I now know what everyone finds out -- that there is no certainty of tomorrow and we partake in a happy delusion most days. We eat right. We exercise. We don't smoke. We play mostly by the ever-changing rules. And we get cancer. 

I hate that. 

But then, I'm lucky. I know that.  I watch as friends try to manage the challenges -- physical, emotional, and logistical -- of treatment and I feel guilt for presuming to be part of the cancer club. I  think this is why I've resisted the occasional pull of support groups and lymphoma conferences. I at once belong and don't belong -- and if treatment is the ticket to the dance, I'll gladly stay uninvited for a long time. 

Indeed, I need to acknowledge how grateful I am - for everything and everyone that makes up my life and for where I was when I was diagnosed. I was diagnosed early and am able to watch as the insidious disease grows or doesn't grow. I have a team standing by, clinical weapons in hand, ready to douse the fire when it starts to burn. I have made it from June 30, 2011 to June 30, 2012 with only a few scans, office visits and blood work to endure. 

One year later and I'm in a good place.

There's no denying that a cancer diagnosis is a life-changing diagnosis. But how it changes you is up to you. It's not like the epiphany in the movies -- at least not for me. I don't suddenly spend every day treasuring every moment. It's not that I don't appreciate things just a little bit more, but each day is still each day, filled with its good moments and bad moments. What put a smile on my face BC still puts a smile on my face AC. And what bothered me BC has the same effect now -- if a little muted. One of my favorite mommy bloggers put it best in the post that went wildly viral (as in 247 thousand shares on Facebook and 58 thousand likes on Facebook) and catapulted her into the mommy blogger stratosphere. You can seize the day, but that doesn't mean you're loving every minute of every day. (Read her anti-carpe diem post here.)


If you're in the cancer business, you're assaulted with numbers. One year since diagnosis. Two years since treatment ended. Three months between visits. Six months between scans. Your afternoons aren't measured as much in coffee spoons, as they are in blood counts, measurements, averages. Do I want to hear the median survival rate? Do I want to hear how many years CHOP is effective? Or Rituxan? Do I want to hear success rates of Stem Cell Transplants, knowing that a success rate of less than 100% implies a corresponding failure rate? Can I just hear the good numbers? Are there any good numbers?

No, I don't want to know. Not now. There will be time yet for decisions and revisons that a minute will reverse.

It's a tricky thing, this number business. Once you have that knowledge, it creeps its way into your brain, slowly insinuating itself into your thoughts. It becomes difficult not to let it affect you somehow.

For now, I will let the numbers and the day go by. I'll work hard to not let cancer change me, let alone define me. And I'll  focus on other numbers -- on miles logged and Little League scores. Because one year and everything has changed. One year and nothing has changed.

--michael

p.s. One of my favorite poems is TS Eliot's Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. Several lines from the poem have been borrowed (and paraphrased) for this post -- not because the poem has any relation whatsoever to the topic. I just always liked the phrases. English majors among us may spot them.