Today is my last day of radiation. I thought I would feel so relieved, but in reality I feel a little scared. Everyone is saying, “yay, now you can put this cancer behind you and move on.” I am so grateful to be done, of course, but how do you put it behind you?
Sure, I won’t have the daily treatments to remind me of the cancer and I won’t be waiting for test results anytime in the near future, but still, how do you move forward? I know people do it everyday and they have traveled a much longer and more difficult journey than I have, but I don’t think anyone walks away from cancer unscathed.
At my last regular visit with my radiation oncologist she gave me a piece of paper that said, “congratulations” and listed all the do’s and don’ts moving forward. At first, I was in awe that you could wrap up these last few months into a one-sheet, but at the same time I felt it must be doable. As I started to review it with the doctor I realized there wasn’t much on there that I didn’t already ascribe to. She said I could start walking/working out 3-4 times a week. Umm, I have been working out during my whole treatment. She told me I could cut my cancer risk by 40% if I exercised, maintained a good weight, and ate healthy. I started to cry and told her I have been doing that for 48 years and I am still sitting in her office. She smiled sympathetically and told me I am part of the angry group and understandably so. I told her I wasn’t angry. She said, “Sure you are. You belong to the group of people in their 30s and 40s who do everything right; exercise, eat healthy, don’t smoke and yet you end up with cancer. It’s hard to understand and yet I am discharging you and telling you to keep doing what you have been doing all along because it’s your best chance of it not coming back.”
So, how do I move on from here?
First, I’m leaving town for a week. Perhaps a change of scenery will inspire a new way of being. At the very least it will give me space to be with family and forget for a little while. It’s interesting that we are going back to Nashville right after I end treatment. It’s as if this whole diagnosis and treatment will be bookended. You see, I went to Nashville days after finding out I had cancer to tell my girls. It was one of the worst weeks of my life and not one I want to ever repeat. So, it seems fitting that 24 hours after my last treatment that we should be flying back there. This time there won’t be fear and uncertainty sitting like an elephant in the room. This time we go with the knowledge that the cancer is gone and it’s time for a new beginning. While I don’t know MY next steps, I can celebrate with them. They need it. They need to fill their glasses with champagne and toast to health and new beginnings. This season of uncertainty has been hard on them. They need to know deep in their soul that mom is good again. They need to know that things are going back to the way they were before. And they are.
So, on Saturday I will raise my glass with them and we will celebrate.
I think I am going to need some more time though. I have additional things to get through over the next 6 months; doctors’ appointments, new medications, tests, new baselines. And then there is that whole eat healthy, exercise thing that I spoke of before. Rattling around in my brain is this thought of, “how can I do better so it doesn’t come back?” I thought I had checked all the boxes before and yet I still ended up with cancer. It’s going to take some time to unwind from this. I feel unsettled, emotional, and not quite myself. It doesn’t feel like I can put this book away just yet.
Perhaps over the holidays I will have some time to reflect on where I have been and where I’m going next. It seems that for now, moving on looks like one step at a time.
Sunshine & Sarcasm,
Lowi & G