i got her call in the afternoon- friday the 13th (!!!) of March. “rachel, you’ve had a complete pathological response to chemotherapy. we didn’t find any cancer in your lymph nodes or in the breast tissue we removed. your cancer is gone- the chemo worked.” that was my surgical oncologist- she has been the bearer of so much bad news in the last 6 months, so i’m thankful she got to share some happy news this time, both for her sake and ours. she has also been the best listener, the most patient with us, and the only physician i’ve cried in front of through this process.
truthfully, i haven’t cried very much. a little bit the day of my diagnosis (september 11, 2014)- alone in my adirondack chair in the sunshine, i cried out of fear and dread of what was to come. a moment of tears while discussing my treatment outlook in this same surgeon’s office- overwhelmed with the heaviness of it all. a few instances of crying among friends when i described my terror at the prospect of having to go through more chemo after surgery. but no tears through all the months of scans and tests and chemo and sickness… i know that seems strange, but i can put on my practical face when i need to, and tears are just not practical when you already feel like garbage. tears make you feel worse- headache, runny nose, ruined make up. and falling apart doesn’t accomplish anything, so why bother? (i know- i sound like i’m made of stone. i do feel things, but i’m pretty good at stuffing them down where no one can ever ever ever find them. Unikitty, anyone?)
but yesterday? after shakily walking to the kitchen to tell my mom what the doctor had said, i called matt to give him the good news: it worked. i don’t need more chemo. (he was returning bottles at the store, so he hugged Dave, the shop owner. i’m sure Dave was thrilled.) and then i cried. and cried and cried and cried. i’m crying now, because there is just no end to my relief. y’all- chemo is survivable. i will walk with you through your chemo, should you ever need it, and i will swear to you up and down that you can do it. because you can. but it is insanely awful- beyond my ability and desire to describe to you. and though i could have made it through more (i know i could have), the mental and emotional strength to face it again would take a miracle.
i have friends facing it again. for themselves, for their spouse, for their child. you will be given that miraculous strength. i know. and i will sit with you as you receive His strength.
i prayed in extremes, beginning with trust in His power to heal and belief that He would heal me. then i flew to the opposite extreme- trust that He would carry me through the news of more cancer, more treatment, more months of feeling worse than awful. mostly i sat in silence with Him: “i don’t know what You’re going to do, and i’m afraid to hope that You will heal me. i believe You can, but i’m so scared You won’t.” it’s okay to say these things to God. it’s okay to not know, to not feel confident. He wants our hearts just as they are, not all shiny and perfect and saintly. He just wants us… every part of us. Pour out your hearts before the Lord? He is refuge for us? okay. yes.
and today? tons of relief that i’m not facing more chemotherapy, friends… i can’t tell you how good it is to know that those months of sickness actually did their job! but i’m not done with all this yet. i’ve just had my mastectomy (OUCH), and the subsequent surgeries to reconstruct my breast and maintain the health of the newly stretched skin (GROSS) will take place over many months. i will also have radiation (25-30 short sessions) to further reduce the chance of recurrence. i will have ongoing treatment with Herceptin for the rest of this year, and then ongoing hormone suppression and treatment (Lupron and Tamoxifen) for the next 10 years. i am discussing the possibility of hysterectomy, since i’m already in early menopause- the verdict is out on the potential advantages. and without going into all the medical specifics, my cancers have the unpleasant habit of coming back, especially since i’m relatively young and have many more years for it to potentially return.
cue the debbie-downer music… the practical side of me rears it’s annoyingly reasonable head. the long road of treatment is not completely over, and i’m not assured a life free of cancer.
but i don’t have cancer right now, and the light seems brighter today. all the plans put on hold last Fall seem like new possibilities again. all the energy and passion i longed to pour into you-my baby friendships here in our “new” home- are floating up to the surface (we are now over a year here, but i spent half of that time in my home, hiding from germs). i can dream again- 1 year, 5 year, 10-20 year hopes for anything and everything. and despite the fuzzy, disconnected feeling of the painkillers (so necessary, but so annoying!), i’m dreaming big and wild and intense and so so so thankfully. so ready to be present with you in LIFE, friends.
and now i’m pretty sure the hydrocodone is taking over… so i’ll stop trying to make sense. thanks for loving us, everyone.