Lying on the bed of the CT machine, after having been offered a blanket, I wondered why they kept the rooms so cold.
“Ah don’t know WAH they do it,” said the scan technician in an endearing Texas drawl. “Cause we’re PEOPLE, right? Not meat.”
It’s spring break in Houston, which explained why I didn’t have to wait long for my blood draw, or even for my scan, and my appointment with the Godfather happened within an hour of the scheduled time. That meant that I didn’t have wait long for the good news: I’m still NED! Because I’m people, not meat, baby!
The Godfather said that everything looked great, he heard that I did a half marathon (false: it was only a 5K), and that he would see me again in three months. We ended the consult with him patting my hair as if I were a collie, and his signature healing hug.
Our flight was delayed so we had some time to visit the Houston Museum of Fine Art, where there this floor to ceiling video of kittens drinking milk was on loop.
I recently transitioned from calling myself a cancer “patient” to a “survivor.” It feels pretty great to say that. I have hair now, so people don’t generally know that I have this haircut not because I’m emulating Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber. I drive kids to practices. I make dinner. I work.
Some things are different from before the diagnosis: I feel like I have a full-time job making self-care a top priority – being diligent about what I eat, and making time for sleep and exercise. Also I’m in menopause.
I also feel an enormous weight – or a compulsion – to make things better for other patients. I don’t know if it’s survivors’ guilt – I mean, I don’t think that I feel guilty, but I know that I’m incredibly lucky – but I spend a lot of time thinking about how I should channel my energies. Some of you may have seen that I wrote an article for Rare Disease Day – these lessons really apply to cancer at large. There are so many things I want people to know. I mean, if you grew up in the 70s like I did, you know very well that on the off chance that you catch on fire, you should stop, drop and roll – but if you’re diagnosed with cancer? How do you even start?
I’m still figuring out the best way to help advance research. This is partly self-serving of course. My surgeon is doing some interesting work and I set up a fund at UC San Diego to help support it. But I also want to diversify the efforts that are out there too, because we do need to do a bit of throwing things on a wall and seeing what sticks. At the same time, because I don’t have control of these organizations, and some involve large amounts of bureaucracy, I don’t feel I can fully optimize my efforts. So do I start my own organization (not my first choice – I have enough going on already)? Still figuring all of that out.
The bright side
In the months following my surgery, I started suddenly and mysteriously experiencing moments of euphoria. I’d be driving in a car on the way to pick up the kids, for instance, and the sun would hit me just right, a song would play, I’d catch of whiff of the native plants in the canyon and suddenly feel an inexplicable wave of joy. I’d smile like an idiot by myself in the car, just like people do in the cancer movies, just happy to have sun and wheels and plants. (Note: this does not happen all the time.)
I’ve also started deciding to just carpe diem every so often. The old, sensible me would have opted to tidy up the house or buy groceries in a spare hour and a half before having to drive someone somewhere. The new me goes on impulse to vintage flea markets and buys French engravings from a collector who’s downsizing. Never seen me at a business school reunion? I’m going to the next one! My 30th high school reunion? Wouldn’t miss it!
So what’s next? Three more months of doing everything. Just one of the benefits of being people, not meat.