Since then I've had two surgeries, swallowed three large doses of radiation, had a hundred or so labs drawn, had a dozen nuclear scans, paid about $2000 in copays for the synthetic thyroid hormone medication I take every day to survive, and said many, many (at least several trillion) prayers. I've told my story and helped others to articulate theirs. I've been jealous of those whose path is easier than mine, and been thankful that my path is easier than others. I've been thankful for some friends for their support and disappointed in others for not offering any when I needed it the most. I've received hundreds of cards and emails of support. I've learned to live with a chronic disease, although not with as much grace as I wish.
Being an oncology nurse is tricky when you have cancer. Being well educated makes the bliss of ignorance out of reach. At their most basic level cancer cells do not follow rules - which is precisely what makes them wreak havock inside the body. There's a societal belief that if you make a five year mark after a cancer diagnosis then you're through the woods, but cancer doesn't follow rules and knows no timeline. There's nothing magical about five years; the nature of cancer is to grow and divide and move and take over another site where they can grow and divide and continue the process. Some days I wonder if I'd preferred to have been ignorant.
Still, I'm excited to have five more years behind me. I'm thankful to be alive. For me it's a big day, even though I know that as far as cancer goes there's nothing special about it. We celebrated anyway by going out for supper and I had some special ice cream when I came back home.
The highlight of this extraordinary day was that my aunt in Maryland mailed me a card to acknowledge it. Nobody else remembered.
On one hand I'm hesitant to celebrate because we know that my tumor marker has never been zero. Thankfully it's slow growing cancer that doesn't need special attention at this time, and may never need special attention or further treatment. That's the realistic oncology nurse who is slightly anxious and will probably need counseling this fall when it's time to go through the diagnostic rigamarole again. The naive part of me who dances in ignorant bliss, although usually silenced by the know-it-all nurse, is totally doing the happy dance today. She is, in fact, rallying hard for a second dessert and a drink with caffeine.
She's also convinced that in five more years when we get to celebrate our 10th cancerversary I will be able to do so with complete grace and a full box of cookies.
Oh what a beautiful, beautiful day.