Five years. Some times that feels like five seconds. Sometimes five lifetimes.
It’s undergrad. A novel. An apprenticeship. A marriage. A thesis. A prognosis. A job. A career. A lifetime.
Normally, I wait and write about my trips to see Aloysius after they happen. I suppose I’m a little superstitious and prefer to not jinx anything. But today, this visit…it’s different. Today I find out if I’m cured. As in “cancer free.” As in “no evidence of disease.” As in “have a nice [long] life because we don’t ever expect to see you ’round here again, lady.”
Five years. That’s how long I’ve been in remission. Five years.
I vividly remember during my treatment, shortly after my grandfather had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, telling my dad that one didn’t undergo the hell of chemo for another five years of life. That no way was it worth it. That I was doing it with the hope of at least another thirty years – and not a day less.
I said that same line to anyone that asked after completing treatment and going into remission. I said that same line to my shrink. I’ve said it so many times I’ve lost track, honestly. And I believed it passionately each and every time I said it.
Most of these five years, I’ve been terrified. Terrified the cancer would come back. Terrified the after effects of the chemo would complicate my pregnancy. Terrified I’d be a horrible mother. Terrified the pregnancy hormones would lead to a new cancer. Terrified that I’d make some tragic mistake and hurt Paul some way. Then there was the busted ankle, the colic, the shingles, then…oh you get the point. There was a lot of adrenaline, k?
At some point, I hit some sort of sleep-deprived stride and lost track of anything that wasn’t geared towards getting the kid to eat or sleep. But about a month ago, my friend Gwen came to visit. I was sick and hadn’t showered in at least three days. She called a few days later and said, “I keep meaning to tell you, you look good – better than you have in a long, long time. I’m talking like before-you-quit-your-job long time.” I laughed and called her a smart ass. She said, “I’m serious. I don’t know what it is.”
But I think I do – five years.
I remembered my biannual appointment was approaching, annoyed by it’s proximity to Christmas and an already busy time. Then I remembered this would be my last of these appointments. And the timing seemed…appropriate.
I started thinking about what’s happened in these five years – what I might not have done, been, witnessed. I wrote a book.* I fell in love with the ukulele. I read my brother’s first novel. I learned a new language. I saw Neil Patrick Harris perform live. One of my pieces was performed on a New York City stage. I became a minister. I married my brother (no, we aren’t that Southern – read the previous sentence). I read my first Neil Gaiman book. I gave my parents their first grandkid. I grew a crop of purple carrots in my very own garden. I made at least 475 inappropriate vagina jokes. I painted my first house. I celebrated my father’s retirement. I made my husband a father 1.75 times. I helped an old friend through death. I gave someone life. I…healed.
And I think that’s what Gwen saw that visit, what I’m finally starting to realize myself. For the first time in five years, I’m not completely petrified. Sure, this pregnancy sucks. It’s annoying and uncomfortable, but it’s not core-rattling frightening like the last one. Paul is still alive. As a result, I’m fairly confident I can do the same for the next kid. And instead of dread, I feel a kind of peace about seeing Aloysius today. Because, maybe for the first time since this whole thing started, I don’t think it’s coming back. And if it does? The hardest decision is already made. I know it’s worth fighting for five more years. I would do it all again.
And I will.
*Sure it hasn’t been published, but I wrote one. And on that same not-actually-succesful-note, I landed a literary agent.