by Christopher Graham
Well, it was time to start treatment again. They were kind enough to let me have a few weeks off of chemotherapy before the wedding and over the honeymoon. But the very next week after we got back, it was right back to reality. My temporary escape from all of this was over. I really didn’t feel like starting the process again. Most people with this disease have one huge surgery and recovery with some chemo afterwards. It was like I was starting all over again. But, this time, I knew exactly how difficult the road in front of me was going to be.
In many ways, it was a simultaneous blessing and curse. At least I knew what was going to happen. How I was going to feel. What to expect. But, at the same time, I knew exactly what I had looming just over the horizon. I knew precisely how bad I was going to feel. A part of me was ready to just get going so we could get it over with. But I was far less optimistic that everything would go smoothly, and now worried more about the perioperative complications than the surgery itself. One more serious hit to the kidneys, and they’re toast. It’s still like that, really. They do their job, but only just.
But this time, I had also started writing. Well, typing at least. Putting pen to paper fingers to keyboard. And so I decided to try to notice all the things I had experienced before, but had forgotten in the overall narrative of the story. The little things. The kinds of things that you notice in the moment, but forget after a few days or weeks have gone by. I’ve already given you with big picture, and general themes. So this time around, I decided to start picking up on, and writing down, the little things.
We just spent quite some time discussing the more serious complications that a major surgical operation can buy you. I hope, by this point, that you have a general sense of what it’s like (with a goodly number of my own personal two cents thrown in here and there, as well) and that I’ve painted a broad brushstroke type of picture about cancer treatment and being in the hospital. And, I hope, you now have just a bit of background knowledge regarding healthcare in general. So I want to try a little something different and give you a sense of what the day-to-day “living with cancer” life is really like.
A lot of days, now, are just normal to me, anymore. Well, as normal as you can be in my state of health. But I get up in the morning, and I do what I gotta do, and my only real limitation on the good days involves my relative lack of exercise capacity. And even though I still think about my cancer a lot, it’s not all consuming of my mind anymore, at least not right now. I get up, I go to work, I get annoyed when I’m stuck in traffic, just like anyone. Sometimes, I don’t feel sick at all.
But – and here’s the thing about being chronically ill – on other days, it’s entirely consuming. It’s all part of that loss of control aspect of being sick. Just like the hospital, cancer operates on its own schedule and it doesn’t particularly care if that’s convenient for you, or not. So let’s play around with the book a little bit. Let’s see if this idea works. Don’t worry, I’m going to do my level best to keep my stories just as snappy and relevant as you’ve come to expect! So, your mileage may vary, I suppose, in that regard.
I want you to be able to read this book and understand some of what it’s like to have cancer and to live that life. And it is my sincerest hope and prayer, beloved reader, that when you close this book, that’s as close as you ever get to dealing with this yourself. I know that’s not going to be the case. All of us will die, and a lot of us are gonna get dealt this particular card from the deck of life. But I’ve continued to live my life, and you can too. The general public still vastly underappreciates how far we’ve come with cancer survival, treatment, and prevention in the last 15 or 20 years. Things that used to be a death sentence can now be put into remission, in some patients. The pace of discoveries along these lines, I believe, is still on the relatively flat part of the exponential curve, and I think we’re about to start making enormous strides in extending life and curing cancers. It’s a colossal task, to be sure, but as Confucius so wisely pointed out far before any of us walked this earth: the man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.
So without further pontification, let us begin, anew.
September 12, 2016 – Return to Chemotherapy
All of those thoughts were going through my head as I sat at the registration desk waiting on Viva. She was diligently making sure that the hospital had all of the correct billing information. It had been almost a month since they had seen me last, and they have to know where to send the bill for this stuff, you know. But that was okay, it wasn’t her fault. She was just doing her job. For what it’s worth, she seemed like a pretty nice person. And it occurred to me that her name was very appropriate. It means “live” in Spanish. But, it means “live” in the sense of a command. Someone, a third party singular narrator, is giving you a command to “live.” That’s the connotation. God – the Universe if you prefer – was giving me a command, and maybe a message of hope. Live.
Or, maybe, it was just another one of those huge coincidences. I wasn’t sure. I had been noticing a lot of coincidences in my life, lately. What I could be sure of, though, was that it was a beautiful day outside. Sunny, with fluffy clouds scattered throughout the sky. It was in the mid-70s with minimal humidity. It was the kind of day that reminds you why people put up with the shitty Midwest winters. The kind of day that’s so nice outside that you want to blow off work and go outside and enjoy it.
And so, of course, I was spending it indoors. Waiting. You occasionally move from one chair to another, but the story of the days you have doctor’s appointments is, more than anything, one of waiting. You wait for them to check you in. Then you wait for them to draw your blood. Then you wait for them to take you back from the waiting room in the doctor’s office. They take your vital signs and you talk to a nurse. You hope that means they’re running on time today, but they never are. You wait until your doctor can come see you, finally. Usually the formula is “appointment time + 2 hours = visit time.” But remember, things run on their schedule, not yours. You can wait.
Continue reading in the next installment by Christopher Graham here: Chapter 7 | Part 2: The Doctor’s Office Waiting Game