“The things I imagine cannot be real and yet the things that are real, I cannot imagine.”
Said by me.
So after surviving my night of scanxiety, my Dad and I trudged off to the hospital for my fifth PET scan since my diagnosis in March of last year. I recall my first PET experience much like a virgin might describe her first time, it was surreal. I remember taking in the backdrop, the lighting, noticing the aroma, and being surprised by the actual process. But at this point it was somewhat mundane, clearly the PET and I may need a healthy break from one another (of course if I’m being realistic we are stuck in some form of dysfunctional relationship for at least five years from when I can claim remission status). It became clear to me that we had been together far too long, when I could find my way around both the radiation oncology wing and radiology area practically blindfolded. If I had been blindfolded, it may have rekindled some of the excitement (clearly I need to stop watching the 50 Shades of Grey teaser). But I have to admit that the fact that I know my way around both the radiology wing and the cancer center with such ease seems surreal to me. A year ago, that would have been unthinkable and now it is a part of my everyday reality.
It’s interesting how the concept of one’s reality can be altered nearly instantaneously. (And suddenly I find myself longing for my old Philosophy text, hoping for some real explanation of the universe.) A year ago, things seemed much simpler, but they also seemed much more superficial. I wasn’t pleading with God on the nightly in hope that his will matched my dreams, in fact I think I had far less faith in my life than I do now, interestingly enough. I wasn’t really paying attention to the moments of my life, in some ways I think I was almost sleepwalking through them. I think that may be the reality for a lot of people who get lost in the rigamarole of our daily lives. We wake up to the alarm, work, run errands, have dinner, spend some abbreviated family time, sleep and repeat. It’s easy to get caught up and stop taking notice. This very surreal experience forces me to take stock in my very real life. And I’m glad, because I fully believe that being grateful has made me happy.
Other things I would never have imagined include my love of the headscarf. If I actually took the time to inventory my collection, it would easily surpass fifty scarves in all different shapes and sizes, oblong and infinity, patterned and solid, heavy and sheer, even glittery. It has become somewhat of a trademark for me. I have made it my mission to match my scarf to my attire. (I fully blame my mother for this OCD obsession.) So while losing my hair was part of my reality, I find my love for accentuating that loss somewhat surreal. Even more so is the number of people who want to touch your head as your hair comes back in. Susan, one of my favorite nurses joked about how this form of unwanted touching is much like being pregnant and the very unsolicited belly rubbing. I laughed, but admit I can see where that could be very true. I also could never have imagined starting a relationship and falling in love all while fighting cancer. I could barely imagine it all, who am I kidding. I can’t even recount the number of times I told Steph over the past ten years that my future was looking like me and a couple of Golden Retrievers. So while Josh is my reality, the whole idea of it is still very surreal to me. Another surprise for me was the relationships I have forged with the people who are a part of my cancer world, other fighters, survivors, and the oncology nurses and doctors. We all swap emails and recipes and sometimes even go out for drinks. The community aspect is surreal and real at the same time.
So now onto my very real news about my PET scan. What I know is that I have significantly less cancer than I did. Nearly 90% less. Which no matter how you look at it I call that #winning. In fact I was really excited because I thought that this would mean I would be downgraded to stage 1. But it turns out, it doesn’t work that way. You remain at the stage of your clinical diagnosis. I responded that categories of hurricanes are down graded and while most agreed that the analogy I chose to use was fitting for my personality it had no bearing on my stage. I find this reality frustrating, primarily because I always liked to get the better grade. When I was in high school I would even argue to get those few extra points if I thought my view was valid. Despite my arguing, I remain a Stage 2. But it feels great to know that I am a stage 2 with very little if any active disease. See at this point the results of the scan are slightly ambiguous. The small highlight may be the result of inflammation caused from radiation. Generally following radiation it is customary to wait nine weeks for a scan, but due to the stubborn nature of my cancer they opted to test early. Unfortunately that means I have to wait for additional eyes to review my scan before an official decision is made, so here I wait. But from where I stand I call Door Number 4 (Radiation) a success and now I just have to wait and see what the next level has to offer. The excitement around this small victory feels surreal even though the reality is that I still have more fighting to do. But at least I won this round!