I know I’m not alone when I say that the last couple of years have been a complete and utter cluster-cluck. The pandemic was hard enough with school going virtual, work shutting down for a couple of months, wondering if we were going to be unemployed and lose everything. We survived it, but 2020 decided to go down swinging.
A couple of days after Christmas, I took my husband to the emergency room for severe abdominal pain that had been building for weeks. His primary care doctor hadn’t come up with a correct diagnosis after multiple tests, and I was not going to wait anymore. I’d have taken him on Christmas except that it had snowed so much there was no way to get a car out or ambulance in due to the steep hills every direction, and it wasn’t possible for him to walk to the nearest cleared road to catch a ride from there. When I think about it at all, I can still feel the suffocating anxiety. How would I get him to the hospital? Would they be able to figure out what was wrong?
At the emergency room, the doctor said it sounded like classic gallbladder symptoms and sent him for a CT scan. Two hours later, he was in emergency surgery for a baseball-sized bowel obstruction. Six more hours passed alone in the surgical waiting room until I learned from a surgeon I’m fairly certain is still in middle school that the obstruction was a tumor, likely cancer. It amazes me the ease with which doctors can toss around words like “cancer” and “chemotherapy,” weightless as feathers instead of life-altering bricks raining from the sky. A biopsy later, and cancer was confirmed. We learned entirely new vocabulary. “Clean margins.” “5FU.” “Neuropathy.”
The following six months were lived in two-week increments. Chemo one week, recover the next, lather, rinse, repeat. The nice planner I bought for 2021 lay collecting dust on my dresser. Goals shifted from writing a couple thousand words a night to “get dinner on the table. Wash dishes. Did The Destroyer finish his homework?” Our lives were measured out in episodes of “The Office,” “Jeopardy,” “Wheel of Fortune.” Our social connections consisted of friends dropping off a meal the evening after treatment. We kept our heads down, and kept moving, one foot in front of the other.
Chemo ended a year ago. We began to make plans. Not big ones. We’re going to hike Gregory’s Bald, LeConte Trail, Charlie’s Bunyon. Next year. We’ll hike. We’ll get out and do it in 2022. Because we can. With this kind of cancer, if it doesn’t return in 2 years, it’s unlikely to ever come back again. We like those odds. 2023, we’re coming for you.
I don’t know when it happened, but one day I looked up and realized that we have moved on. One clear CT scan led to another, and then to another, and now we’re living our lives as though cancer never existed. It is a blip on a radar, a speck in the rear-view mirror. We adopted a dog-monster. Her name is Storm, and she has the energy of a caffeinated hurricane. I would never have considered adding chaos to the household if we were a cancer family, when we needed life to be as uncomplicated as possible.
We’ve hiked, too. Boy, have we hiked. We hit all three of our target trails within the span of a month, about 30 miles and God only knows how much elevation gain. On Gregory’s Bald, I kept thinking we would eventually run out of “up.” The Padawan even joined us for that one. We missed the peak of Flame Azalea season by about 10 days, but it was still worth it. We did it. We survived, and now we thrive.
Our next adventure is a trip to Peru to work on reforestation in the Peruvian Amazon. The Padawan is joining us for that one, too. Two weeks in the forest with no electricity or running water? Bring it. I did finally think to clear it with the oncologist a couple of weeks ago as an afterthought. She shrugged. “I don’t see why not.” Me, neither.
And here’s the best news. 2 years is considered cured. We learned at our last visit that the clock started the day they removed the tumor, not the day chemo ended. On December 27, we’ll be celebrating that two full years without cancer. We don’t have a year and some change to go; we have four months. In four months, this whole episode can be chalked up as a major pain-in-the-ass inconvenience and nothing more. We’re here. We’re back. We’re in this game to win it.