End-of-Year Oncologist Visit
That Time Again
Last week, I went to my ongoing oncologist check-in, now part of my "new normal."
What started as a quarterly post-treatment visit has now slowly progressed into one every four months, with my surgeons also recently telling me that my biannual apppointment with them would now become annual.
"You need to wean off of us," one of them said to me. Exciting to hear?? YES ... but scary, too.
I had been prepping all morning by drinking lots of water to fluff up my veins, a trick I learned after being poked and prodded repeatedly during my cancer journey. My bloodwork appointments have become routine, and I expected to be in & out and get on with my day. Wrong.
This time, I also had to get a scan, which sent me to a location that I have not had to visit since my pre-chemo days. When I entered the waiting room, the sight of everyone with grey hair and barium smoothies took me right back to my isolating days of being the youngest cancer survivor in the room. But the smell...
That "hospital smell" hit me like a ton of bricks. When I went to see my phlebotomist after the scan, he said to me, "Which arm are we sacrificing today?" which made me laugh, and I suddenly appreciated the unexpected smile.
During chemo, I had a port. You would not think you would miss it once it was gone, but in that moment, I did. On chemo days, my mother (who had to live with us to take care of me) and I had a routine of applying numbing cream to it beforehand so that by the time I arrived to the chemo chair, I barely felt anything. Now that I have been de-ported, I feel EVERYTHING.
As he prepped my arm, seeking a vein, I turned away. He asked if I was okay, and I explained that I didn't like to look. "Well, I have to," he laughed. Again, I appreciated the unexpected humor. As the needle went in, I actually flinched a little, and he asked if I was ok.
As I fought back tears, I thought, How do I answer that?? Do you REALLY want to know??
The Hardest "Stage"
I've often written about how the hardest cancer stage is the post-treatment one. During our visit, my oncologist informed me that the next time we see each other, it will officially be 1) next year, and 2) past the THREE-YEAR mark of being cancer-free 🤞🏼 — a HUGE milestone for a triple-negative breast cancer survivor! She said, "It was so long ago, but it also seems like yesterday." Tell me about it.
According to Healthline:
The risk of recurrence for TNBC is greatest within the first three years and declines rapidly after five years. Therefore, there are no long post-therapy regimens.
As exciting as this milestone sounds, I felt an odd mix of emotions. My doctors have constantly told me that the highest risk of recurrence would be within the first two to three years. When I approached the two-year mark, everyone was like, "Oh, you can relax now!" But in my mind, I was like, "Not for at least another year!" Now, as I approach the three-year mark, I don't feel like I can (fully) relax until I reach the five-year mark...
And this is how you get through cancer. You run one leg of the race at a time, and then you focus on the next one, while the anxiety of cancer recurrence chases you constantly to the "finish line."
As I'm constantly bombarded with images of "breast cancer survivor warriors," I wonder if they also feel the ongoing emotional toll of this race.
Because that is the TRUTH about life after cancer ... you can NEVER really relax; there is no finish line.