“Oh, by the way,” she said nonchalantly as I entered the room. “Your scans are clear.”
“I’m sorry, what?” I stuttered in disbelief.
Just like that, in a matter of seconds, my oncologist revealed the news I had waited, hoped, and prayed over a year for. Four words I had started to doubt I would ever hear. Four words that so many people — strong, courageous, deserving people — never get to hear. Words that swirled around in my head as I struggled to sleep, tossing and turning, anxious that my transplant hadn’t worked, terrified of what the niggling pain in my chest might be, paralyzed with fear over what might happen.
But in that plain hospital room on a Thursday morning, after innumerable hours spent turning the pages of weathered magazines in waiting rooms, weeks of sleepless nights, a year of debilitating treatments, my deepest fears were laid to rest through four simple words.
“You are cancer-free.”
Suffering has become a close companion over the past year. Not the sort of companion that a person likes to keep, but a companion nonetheless. When all you know is the harsh reality of disappointing scan results, and medical professionals awkwardly hand you tissues on a regular basis, you begin to identify with your suffering. You begin to see pain as your new norm. To cope, I had to assimilate. I had to accept that I was handpicked to be tested at an early age.
Of course, I wasn’t an island. I knew there were thousands of others like me. Together we were honorary members of the suffering club. But I no longer knew how to separate myself from the weight of my pain.
It was surreal being told that I am cancer-free. This kind, gray-haired woman, with her nonchalant words and breezy attitude, casually removed the crippling weight strapped to my back for what seemed like an eternity.
Amid my celebration, there is guilt and grief. So many people I know, people I have met through my membership in this unfun club, never receive this news. It’s brutally unfair. Regardless, my life has been dark for so long that I feel like I need time in the sun more than ever. Time to rest and process and feel deep, immense gratitude that I am still here. That somehow, I made it through the darkest days of my life.
Sometimes I felt like I would never escape this tumultuous journey. That cancer would be part of my world forever. Now I see that everything passes. Everything has its time.
I know that, in some way, cancer will be part of my world forever. I’m tied to cancer for years to come. My immune system is infantile, so I need to be regularly monitored over the next year. I also need to be on medication for the foreseeable future. There is no such thing as a clean break.
But I don’t think anyone who goes through this illness walks away unscathed. We carry scars, both internal and external, with us into the world. We view life differently. Our eyes tell a deeper story. Our appreciation for life is exaggerated. We can never go back.
I have learned that it cannot be dark forever. I remember being in agonizing pain post-transplant, unable to walk or talk or swallow. Honestly, I just wanted to die. I thought that I would never get through it.
Now, I’m 100 days post-transplant with hair sprouting on my head. I can dance and practice yoga and laugh like a child with the people I love.
Know that wherever you are in your journey, it will get better, even if you’re still in a painful place. It has to get better eventually. There will be good days and bad, even if it feels like you’ll always have to carry the weight of this illness. But it won’t always be so heavy. Lighter days are always around the corner.
Know that the more time you spend in that painful place, the brighter the sun will shine. That is the gift of darkness. When it’s finally your time to lie in the sun again, to breathe in the fresh air and look up at the clear, blue skies, the light will be illuminating.
Note: Lymphoma News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lymphoma News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lymphoma.