The best news of all: my first-year mammogram showed that I am cancer free. Wonderful! I actually found out last week. It’s a slow, and therefore strange, kind of relief—as if I had been holding my breath ever since my diagnosis one year ago and I’m still not sure it is really OK to breathe. The fear that a cancer diagnosis generates is, I now understand, akin to the skin darkening that comes with radiation treatment: it fades slowly over time and may never completely go away.
My response is to live my life. I don’t have any other option, but how I live now feels like a choice. What do I want to do? The first big choice I made was to return to clinical nursing. In July I started back at my old job as a per diem nurse in home hospice. I usually work two days/week and it has been great to be back with my old team. I work with the most fabulous nurses, and our patients are wonderful, even when they drive me crazy. There’s nothing quite so humbling as spending time with people who know their death, or the death of someone they love, is more or less imminent. In our polarized, highly-politicized world, a dose of humility is always good.
The second choice I made was to write a book about having cancer. It’s not a memoir of my disease per se, but an exploration of what it was like to be an oncology and hospice nurse and then become a cancer patient. Over this past year I learned how little I, the nurse, actually understood about what cancer patients go through emotionally and physically. I learned how terrifying the word cancer is when applied to oneself. I learned the power of honest explanations, the importance of always telling patients the full truth about the effects of treatment.
So, I’m going to be working on that book, which is still coming together as a proposal, and not writing more on this blog. Some might say that ending on post number 13 is bad luck, but after cancer my notion of superstition has been upended. There’s good luck and bad, and each of us hopes for more of the former than the latter, but often we have no control over either. We are, none of us, ever just the sum of our luck, but cancer makes it hard to believe that. Every time I see my internist he says, “Stay healthy.” Yes, I’ll try. And meanwhile, I’ll be writing.