Sometimes I wish I’d had my cancer treatments in the dead of winter, on dreary, gray days covered in sleet and despair. Because when it’s gorgeous out there–a tableau of autumn’s oranges, reds, yellows, and greens against an incredibly blue sky–it’s hard not to get all, “Seasons in the Sun,” while you’re anticipating your annual, “Am I still okay?” test results.
I’m supposed to find out today if I’m still cancer-free. I saw my oncologist on Monday at my annual appointment, and he drew blood to test for cancer. The results are due today.
Waiting until he calls makes me want to pull my car over on the highway, take in the beauty of autumn on the surrounding hills, and sing through black mascara-tinged tears, “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun…”
Even eight years after cancer. Perhaps especially eight years after cancer, because though I’m pretty much no longer concerned about my cancer coming back, now I’m worried about new ones popping up, courtesy of the very treatments that had saved my life eight years ago.
The development of new tumors or new cancers is called tumorigenesis,” a word I added to my spellchecker this week in my fairly new job as a medical writer. When people ask me how I got into this field, I say, “The hard way. I got cancer. I don’t recommend it.” Then I smile and sell it with a line about lemons and lemonade, and go back to adding more scary words to my spellchecker.
And waiting for my oncologist to call.
But the sun doesn’t care about my anxiety. It continues to stream through the leaves, backlighting them into an even more brilliant display of colors, as the rest of the world counts down the final hours til their weekends begin as though my future doesn’t depend on this one, stinkin’ phone call.
As the clock ticks and the phone doesn’t ring, that damn song plays in my head:
Goodbye to you, my trusted friend…
I begin to think that maybe all I can get is eight years of overtime, which is way, way more than my cousin Donny got–a year and change–or my Aunt Nancy got–5 weeks, start to finish. No, now I’m certain that I’m lucky to even be here, watching the falling leaves spread a patchwork blanket across my backyard.
We had joy. We had fun.
I start asking myself if I’ve I lived my life to the fullest. Have I had as much joy and fun as I could? Have I taught my kids how to enjoy life and the people they love before it’s too late? Also, will my freakin’ oncologist call before the weekend, or will I have to wait?
My iPod, on shuffle, plays Tom Petty’s, “The Waiting,” which is, as he sings, the hardest part.
“Oh, very funny, God,” I mumble.
And then the news finally comes: All clear. Again.
Suddenly, my iPod plays, “Survivor,” by Destiny’s Child, and I shout the lyrics at the leaves outside my window.
I’m a survivor (what?)
I’m gonna make it (what?)
I will survive (what?)
Keep on survivin’ (what?)
Very funny, God.
Also, thank you. Thank you for the annual reminder that life is indeed short and fragile and beautiful and precious, and that I’m so, so lucky to be here to see the leaves change once again. To see my kids through another year of school. To sing about joy and fun and surviving (what?). I’m a survivor (what?). I’m a survivor, for another year, until the leaves change once again.