Yesterday was the long-awaited 6-month oncology checkup. While still in the waiting room I posted that circumstances permitting I only had another three such checkups before moving out of the five-year post-treatment window. Behind that post, my expectation that if I made it to five years I could close the book on the cancer threat for a good long while, maybe even forever.
Yet once actually with the oncologist I learned otherwise. He wants me to come back every three months for at least the next year. Reason: at 3+ years after the end of treatment apparently I’ve entered the period where chances increase of lymphoma recurring. This time he asked questions he hasn’t for awhile: do I have swollen lymph nodes, night sweats etc. Things, he told me, that I should be on the lookout for because along with back pain they’re the surest indication of recurrence. The fact that this checkup he sent me off with a clean bill of health only means that’s how I am now. No guarantees for the future, in other words.
I was surprised by this, yet at the same time I wasn’t. When treatment ended I was told it had knocked my chances of recurrence down to 40%. I’d taken that to mean I was well on my way out of the woods. Maybe already there, even. No reason I should have thought that except that’s what I wanted to believe.
But a 40% chance is still uncomfortably high and somewhere in the recesses of my mind there’s been the knowledge that no matter what I want to believe, cancer is going to try to come back because that’s what cancer usually does. So when yesterday the oncologist also told me I almost certainly will have a recurrence at some point and the main variable will be its severity, I was kinda prepared for it. Kinda. I don’t think anyone is ever really prepared for this, diagnosis or aftermath or whatever.
The onco did reassure me that because I’d made it through the first two years post-treatment with no indications of recurrence it increased my odds of that severity being… well, not catastrophically severe. So there’s that.
A friend who underwent treatment roughly concurrent with mine wrote that for awhile she’d unconsciously viewed her cancer like someone might a cold: it comes, there’s a period of misery, then you beat it and things get back to normal. Though my memory of her words may not be accurate, and even if it is I’m no doubt being very reductive with them here, yesterday I realized that I’d been thinking of mine much the same. That cancer is something after which, presuming treatment is successful, you can pick up right where you left off. Eventually, maybe, but you can.
Which itself is definitely reductive, because there is absolutely no fucking way my life can be as it was before cancer now that I’ve had even just one go-round with it. I’d just encouraged myself to forget that, something I guess a few years with no notable symptoms can lead to. True, there was that false alarm back in late 2016. I could have learned something from that but evidently I had to wait until yesterday for that.
In any case, there’s little difference in my body from when I got up yesterday morning. My mind: yeah, that’s different some. I think I’m better for it. I guess we’ll see in three months.