Having allowed this blog to lie fallow for an embarrassingly long time, I was struggling with bloggers’ block; each day that passed simultaneously raised the stakes and worsened my paralysis. Surely I owed readers an explanation, or at least an especially insightful post. Something, you know, about the passage of time, good-bye-and-good-riddance-2017/you’d-better-be-better-2018 – why else had I staged that photo with a glittery “Happy New Year” tiara in a pile of dirty snow? – but it couldn’t be lame and trite, it called for a light touch and wry humor and blah blah blah.
And so a week went by. And another. And another.
Then, on January 15, an extremely kind and thoughtful reader sent me an email message congratulating me on my 10-year “cancerversary.” She had read my 2015 post on the topic of cancer anniversaries, and remembered both the date and that this marked a decade for me.
I had forgotten.
I’d forgotten for good reasons (increased running mileage, obsessive birding, new projects) and bad (my mother-in-law died on January 12; the morning of the 15th, I flew home from Detroit after her funeral the day before). But the fact that I forgot so completely still speaks to a kind of normalcy that, ten years ago, when I was rudely booted from the world I knew into cancer land, I couldn’t imagine I’d ever regain.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with that fact until this morning, when it hit me during a Brooklyn waterfront run: why not mark this year with a series of anniversary posts? Heaven knows there are plenty of upcoming milestones (first MRI-guided biopsy, date of originally-scheduled lumpectomy that never happened, mastectomy, first chemo, second chemo, etc. etc. etc.). My hope is that the juxtaposition of then and now will be helpful – or at least mildly interesting – to other patients who are now where I was then.
And so, just now, I’ve dragged the step stool into the back room and retrieved my (voluminous) cancer folder from the top of the coat closet, where it’s been living with our tent, sleeping bags, frisbees, bocce balls, spare duffels, emergency kit and other rarely (or never)-used items.
Looking through that mess of calendars and notes and handouts and journal articles and pathology reports was unsettling (my hands are trembling ever so slightly as I type this). Seeing my handwriting from that time, the questions carefully thought up and neatly written out in advance of appointments, the doctors’ answers scribbled messily between them, arrows pointing here and there where I hadn’t left enough room; remembering just how much it is I don’t remember, from the names of doctors (oh, yeah, Kwon was the young guy who’d studied with Nathanson, the senior guy) to the reassuring statistics (“20-25% chance of lymph node involvement with a tumor my size”) to the jagged way my diagnosis and treatment unspooled; all those weeks and months stuffed into manila folders stuffed into a giant binder – it’s surprisingly emotional in ways I’ve yet to sort out, much less understand.
Ten years ago today, it turns out, was my meeting with the multi-disciplinary “tumor board.” The top “breast guy” (meaning: surgeon) was there, and the lead chemo guy, and the radiation lady. Eric accompanied me, his scribbled notes paper-clipped to my own. The doctors laid out the way they expected things to go (spoiler alert: things did not all go as expected), laying out the various “if/then” decision branches we’d be facing (if the sentinel node is negative, then Oncotype Dx; if Oncotype score indicates high risk, then chemo).
My only direct memory of the meeting is that I really liked the radiation oncologist for her reassuring manner and her sense of humor. All the rest – up to and including the fact that there was tumor board meeting at all – I’d forgotten.
That was then. Today, I ran five miles – from Park Slope to Bush Terminal Pier Park and back. I brought my binoculars with me, stashed in the small, pink-ribboned backpack I won at some Race for the Cure event way back when, and added two bird species (killdeer and black-headed gull) to my 2018 list. Back home, I put short-ribs for tonight’s dinner in a complicated, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink marinade (mustard! gochujang! picked okra brine! stout!) and stashed them in the fridge. Then I sat down at the computer and, well, you’re reading the result.
. . .
Expect more of these “then and now” posts throughout the year, interspersed with the usual running (and birding) reports, neighborhood observations and, of course, food discoveries.