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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Putting It All Into Perspective

For as long as I could remember, Christmas has been my favorite time of the year. I start playing Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving, I love decorating the house, and I'm obsessed with planning the perfect holiday parties and get-togethers. So I've been so thankful (#blessed!) to never have to deal with icky "cancer" stuff during the holidays. In my 6 year run with this disease, God has worked it out so the scans and treatments never landed on my birthday or the holidays (oh, because I also feel like my birthday is a national holiday [insert princess emoji here]).

Giant Christmas Tree at my office building.
Makes me happy every day!
So when I went to my doctor this week for blood work and my monthly infusion of Keytruda, I was a little nervous. I didn't want anything to mess up my "holiday flow." For the last 5 months I've been basking in the remission glow, while also completely, totally, overwhelmingly concerned about a relapse. Here's the thing folks...when you reach remission after 6 years of treatment, you don't just stop everything and return to normal. Ohhhh how I wish that was so!

Even though I am beyond happy about my miracle drug Keytruda (which has also been in the news lately because of President Jimmy Carter...Keytruda is FDA-approved for lung cancer and melanoma...its still in trials for lymphoma...but President Carter has been declared cancer-free after undergoing Keyrtuda infusions! GREAT news for the drug. An additional side note: I'm always amazed at how the same drugs can treat many different cancers. Why is that? What does that mean? Scientists, hurry up and figure that out!), I am definitely nowhere near riding off into the sunset without a care in the world.

In fact, I'm almost more scared now then I was before remission! I know, crazy. I try not to think about it, but it's hard when people assume "you're all good now, right?" Well, yeah, kinda, sorta, maybe. Actually I don't know. Here's the deal--no one knows. Although the drug has had ah-mazing results on all sorts of patients with serious disease, no one knows how long it will last. The one thing my doctor knows is that when people stop the drug, the lymphoma comes back. UGH.

So, the plan is to stay on the drug--indefinitely. And on one hand I'm fine with that. I get a monthly infusion that's 30 minutes long...no side effects, no nausea, no hair loss, no fevers...and I'm back at my desk in an hour, having completely forgot that I just had a needle in my chest, dripping serious drugs into my body. It's so weird when I really think about the dichotomy of my life. But on the other hand, it means I'm a slave to science. I can never really be free if I always have to get infusions and blood work and scans and allll the stuff that comes along with cancer. I wish I could do a "month-in-the-life" documentary to show everyone all the crap I have to go through, so they could really understand. I silo everything in my mind, because when I think about it all at once, I might have a nervous breakdown---no really.

And I almost had a breakdown a few weeks ago when I met with my primary care doctor who helped determine my initial diagnosis back in 2009. I've been dealing with some lower back pain that I believe is not cancer related, so I went to my primary care doctor who I haven't seen since 2010...once I went down Cancer Lane, I spent most of my time with oncologists...so as I walked back into her office, I felt all the memories of the first time I went to her office with a swollen lymph node on my neck. At the time, I really didn't believe I had cancer. I thought that there was no way. But she recommended a biopsy to be sure, and here we are, 6 years later.

When she called me into her office, she looked at me and said, "wow, you made it through to the other side." I almost started crying as I nodded and said "yeah, I did." She went on to say that my first oncologist (who she still communicates with...I switched from him to my current doctor when my case got more complicated) had kept her in the loop of everything I was going through. She said that he had been worried about me,  in fact, "very worried" were her exact words. That scared me...I wondered what type of conversations they had and if my original oncologist was concerned that I wouldn't make it. I told her everything that had happened since I saw her last...chemo, stem cell transplant, blood clot, surgery, a wedding in the middle of everything...and she shook her head in disbelief. I know she never imagined I would have to go through all of that when she first examined me.

As I left her office and walked down the familiar hallway where I had previously walked all those years before, I had to stop and sit down. Her shock and concern really put it all into perspective for me. I know what I've been through. I know it's a lot of info that scares a regular person, but when a medical professional is blown away, it really makes me pause and think. I've compartmentalized everything to get through it all--I would never get out of bed if I thought about it all in at the same time. But it's a lot. A Lot.

And yet I'm still here. I don't know why or how, but I'm still here. And still grateful. My blood work at my recent visit was amazing (so good in fact, my doctor left his office to spout the numbers to his team! The next day I came back for treatment and the nurses said he couldn't stop talking about it, lol!) so that is a good sign. Regardless, it's like trying to date again after being burned with a bad breakup...I'm still cautiously optimistic about my new relationship with this hot guy called "Remission." I hope we have a great future together and he sticks around. And I hope he's my soulmate and I pray he likes Christmas as much as I do :)