You’re not going to believe this – but this question usually throws me. I know, weird, right? I should be able to tell you how I’m feeling without hesitation. But that’s where it gets tricky for me.
I’m reminded of the accepted greeting in the High School hallways as you walked by friends, acquaintances and rif-raf. Inevitably someone will approach you as you’re walking towards you.
Ubiquitous head nod. “Hey, how’s it going?” they’d ask nonchalantly.
This threw me too. I knew they weren’t really asking me how I was, and I also knew I didn’t have time to answer with anything meaningful, witty, or interesting. I always thought it was funny if I really answered truthfully and shared the nitty gritty details about my latest most embarrassing episode, tragic crush, or emotional meltdown. But I knew “the code” and answered back, “Great. How’s it going?” Mission Proper High School Social Etiquette Accomplished!
The answer now to this question is multi-faceted. Here are the various truthful answers I can give:
1. DOING GREAT. It’s true. I am doing great. I’m feeling good for the most part, save the hot flashes, and the weird muscle spasms I get in the arch of my feet from time to time, and the wonky boobs. The acne has slowed down thankfully, so I’m grateful for that. And the fills seem to be progressing, so I’m also thankful to be moving forward as well. Now that navigating the initial mind-blowing reality of the diagnosis in the fall, figuring out the best path forward, digesting the gobs of information on breast cancer, treatment, et all, recovering from surgeries and hospital stays, and somehow getting through the delays with test results, seems to be behind me now, it’s a relatively quiet period in my CJ and I’m not taking that for granted. Not in the least.
2. OVERWHELMED. Yep, true too. Picture this: a full life managing kids, house, the Intern, a School Foundation, and other volunteer commitments, and then add a medical crisis into the mix. Welcome to Crazytown, population 1. In addition to balancing my very full and wonderful life, I now have to juggle various Dr’s appointments in an already packed situation. Add also to the mix that I’m convinced there is a true thing called “Tamoxifen Brain” and I am indeed suffering from it. After years of being crowned “the one with the good memory,” it appears I will need to relinquish my title. But I already told you that, right? I forget.
[Sidebar: If you think you’ll never “use math” again after middle school or high school, you’re wrong. I’m convinced that every afternoon shuttling the kids to their various activities which all require elaborate carpools and wardrobe changes (for them, not me!) is a real-life application in algebra. “If J needs to be at tech rehearsal at 3:30 and gets out of her school at 2:50, and tech rehearsal is 10 miles away; and C and Z get out of a different school 2 miles away at 2:58, and need to be at baseball practice at 4:30, how do you get J from point A to B? How do you get C&Z from point C to D?”
3. ANXIOUS. Also true. April marks month 7 of my CJ and while I am beyond grateful that my journey has been not as challenging as others’ have had, it’s still a lot to swallow. I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to have the 2nd surgery. I’m ready to not identify with myself as a cancer patient. But I’m also anxious in another sense of the word. I haven’t managed to deal with the anxiety I feel about recurrence. Everything in the cancer world is about risk assessments. What is more likely or less likely to happen. But no guarantees! So sometimes it feels like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. How old will I be when they find something suspicious again? Will my kids have graduated from high school? I know it’s a morbid thought – and I could just as well get hit by a bus tomorrow – but the thing about cancer is, or at least my cancer is, there’s no official graduation ceremony or finish line. It’s elusive. At my last appointment with my oncologist at UCSF, she said I should come back in 6 months. No scans, no MRI’s and no mammograms. Just that I call her if I feel weird, but that they treat me with the understanding that the cancer is gone, and I’m taking the Tamoxifen to prevent it from growing again, and other than that, there’s nothing else to do.
“That’s it?” I asked her, “No balloons? No ‘Ta Da! You’re Done!’ No Parade?”
“Yes, that’s correct. No parade,” she confirmed. I think I was her first patient to have ever asked for a parade.
And so there you have it. My Frequently Most Asked Questions: Answered.
So where does that leave me now? I’ve still got a lot ahead of me from the reconstruction standpoint; I’ve got a Spring Break in Hawaii to pack for (I know, better start the packing list now, because it’s only 2 weeks away!); I’ve got an auction to plan; a closet to clean and a hot lunch volunteer shift to work, so I’ll sign off here.