One would think that when a woman with breast cancer walks out of the hospital after her last radiation treatment and chemo is behind her, she would sail back into real life with both breasts (the old ones redux or some nice new reconstructed ones), admirable moxie, and unshakable spirituality.
I crept back, looking over my shoulder for the guy with the scythe and the creepy robe.
I DON'T MEAN TO BE PICKY
I know it's all about words, but I am an English teacher. I'm a little anal about words.
I never used the term "fighting cancer" because I don't think it is a fight. You don't "fight" cancer; you make nice with it and maybe it will be nice to you. If anyone was doing any fighting, it was my doctors, fighting against an as-yet incurable and still mysterious disease which arm-wrestles for first place with heart disease for the No. 1 killer in America. They're doing a great job, but all I can do is show up for doctor appointments. I am not fighting anything.
I also refuse to hear the word "cured" when referring to a patient whose cancer has not recurred in a few years. One of my doctors used that term; but not for nothing, if someone had found a cure for cancer, don't you think I would have read about it?
The one time I liked cancer and words was when my oncologist answered my question, "When can I refer to myself as a cancer survivor?" And he said, "You're going to survive, so you can call yourself a survivor the minute you get your diagnosis."
I love my oncologist.
SO IT WASN'T OVER
Before I started chemo, I had to show up for many tests involving menacing machines, but I was never really sure why. Sometimes I'd ask, and the answers were crisp and practiced, reminding me of the answers little kids give on the witness stand when questioned about imagined sexual abuse at their day care center.
I knew that before the chemo, they were making sure I was strong enough to handle it and that the cancer hadn't spread anywhere else. After the chemo, they were checking "just to see if I was ok." But long after I thought I was about through with treatment, they repeated the dreadful MUGA scan – the one that told me if my heart was pumping blood properly, a really critical function of the heart.
And the results were "inconclusive." I had to go back.
TIME FOR A SPA VACATION
I couldn't get another appointment for a week, so I decided that it would be a good thing for me if I went to a spa for a three-day R&R. I chose Canyon Ranch, in nearby Lenox, Massachusetts. It was way too much money, but, shoot, I had cancer.
So I drove up and checked myself in. The spa looks like a castle, with fountains and formal gardens, and the staff bowed and scraped and took away my car and my luggage and gave me a neat little canvas bag and a water bottle and a key and showed me to my room.
Wow. I bounced around checking the thread count of the sheets and the view from my window and then signed up for a five-mile run.
I hadn't run, really, for a while, although I used to be a marathoner and a weightlifter and yogi, so I figured I could hold my own, but I couldn't. I fell behind. My heart bleated and I could feel it in my chest. I told the other women to go ahead and I would meet up with them on the way back.
I sat on the curb for a minute. It couldn't really be a problem with my heart. It must have been that I was out of shape. I decided that I would sign up for a yoga class later, until I remembered that I couldn't do much yoga because of the glaucoma; I can't be upside-down – too much stress on my eyeball. I could go get a massage, but I do that at home and insurance paid for it. I started to cry. I was out of shape, my heart was failing, I had cancer, I was going blind.
There was a beautiful and noble old church across the street, its spires and stone balustrades glamorous in the shade of a copse of heavily-leaved trees. I decided I would go over there and talk to God.
The chapel was, of course, as chapels are, thinly lit through stained glass and smelled of rubbed wood and candle wax. I kneeled down and hung my arms over the back of the pew in front of me, laid my face on the wood, and cried instead of prayed.
SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO KNOW WHEN TO GO HOME
It took me about 10 seconds to have an out-of-body experience where I saw myself as a bad actress in a remarkably melodramatic scene in a really bad movie. I looked around, happy to see there was no one in the church besides me, and I tiptoed outside and jogged around waiting for the other women to come back.
When I got back to the room, I gathered up my things and checked out. "I'm not well," I told the girl at the desk. She looked at my bald head. I had committed to 3 days; she only charged me for one, which was $1,000.
I went home.
But I had the swell canvas bag and the water bottle. My $1,000 water bottle.
Up next: CHAPTER 12: Jewelry Helps
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