Thursday, June 22, 2006

And Just Like That . . .

I’m done. Today was supposed to be a long day—my last long day of cancer treatment. I was supposed to be at the clinic from, essentially, 10:30 am to 7:00 pm (with a lunch break, of course). I’ve been going to the clinic for five years now; every week for the first six months, and every three weeks for the past 4 ½ years. That’s a long time. In fact, it’s a longer amount of time than Ian and I have been married. It’s more time than Spackle, our dog, has been alive. It’s more time than I spent in college, almost (but not quite) counting my MA. It’s half a decade. I’ve been in treatment in two decades in my life—my twenties and my thirties. In fact, if you count my first round of cancer treatments, which, to my utter disbelief and bafflement, started in 1999 when I was twenty-six, well then, my time in treatment has spanned two millennia.

And now it’s done. After a fitful night of sleep, I awoke this morning, attempted (badly) the Thursday New York Times crossword puzzle, and then restlessly roamed the house waiting for 10:10 when I could leave to get to my blood drawn. Ian came in at one point and suggested something, I don’t know what, and I lashed out at him, tears in my eyes. “I’m going to be a little snappy today,” I told him unnecessarily.

At 10:30 at the clinic I had an IV poked into my left forearm and blood drawn. An hour later, after Ian had met me in a waiting room, and we’d sat around well, waiting, me with my heart in my throat, the proverbial weight on my chest, making it hard to breathe normally so that I occasionally took a giant conscious breath, I finally got in for my chest CT. As soon as I was done, we rushed off, ignoring the request that I stay around 10 minutes in case I developed a reaction to the radioactive iodine. Well, I had developed a reaction, and it told me to get the hell out of that clinic, at least for a while.

I felt like a bug put in a jar by a benevolent but clueless giant. There were airholes, but all around me I was bumping against invisible barriers between me and the life I wanted to lead, and I’d been in the jar for five years. For the last several weeks my feelings have been an exhausting mixture of euphoria and dread—when I reached the 22nd of June, I’d be set free! But what if that killed me? What if I couldn’t go it alone? But what if I didn’t have the chance to be set free, anyway? Maybe the cancer had come back in the last few months since my last meeting with the doctor. But maybe I’d just be free—free to travel when I wanted to, instead of planning out, months in advance, trips that would fit within my three week grid. Free to rock climb any day I wanted, instead of having to wait 4 days after every infusion until my body expelled the extra saline and my fingers returned to normal size, and didn’t feel like popping when I hauled myself up walls. Free to feel like any other healthy 33-year-old.

At 1:00 pm, Dr Livingston would let me know.

We had an hour to kill, so Ian and I went to lunch, meeting Mom, at a lovely Italian place called Serafina, 3 minutes from the clinic. I think I behaved moderately respectably; I hadn’t been able to eat anything in the morning, but I knew my tenuous hold on my composure would become nonexistent if I met the doctor on an entirely empty stomach, no matter what the news. So I ate, excellent bread and olive oil and salt, ravioli with ricotta and pine nuts, a cup of decaf. A salad. I think my table manners were passable; it’s a nice restaurant and our server (who, albeit, had dreadlocks) never looked at me askance. I probably behaved okay, although I felt, dimly, that I was stuffing bread into my mouth as if I hadn’t had a meal in days.

And then it was time to go, and within minutes we were at the clinic, then I was getting weighed (even in the throws of almost blinding anxiety I was able to joke about taking off my flip flops because they’d add so many significant ounces to the never acceptable total), then they took my blood pressure, my temperature, checked my pulse, and suddenly the doctor was there.

“You look fine,” he said. “Your CT is normal.”

And I burst into tears.

He comforted me, then left while I got undressed for the physical part of the exam; when that was done, we sat around and talked. About birth control (not the Pill; barrier methods). About nutrition (“Your brain needs sugar. Your heart needs sugar.”). About alcohol (“There seems to be legitimate evidence supporting the use of alcohol for heart health”). About the fact that Dr Livingston is leaving, moving to Tucson in August (“You stayed around just long enough to make sure I’d be alright, right?” “Of course I did,” smiling at me).

Finally, he stood up. “Are you accessed?” he asked, wondering if I had an IV in my port.

“No, I’m not,” I said.

“Well, then, you’re free to go home!”

I stared blankly for a minute. “Um . . . I’m not going to get the last infusion?”

“Well, why bother?” he asked. “Of course, you can always go up and say goodbye to the nurses. I’ll send someone up to tell them you won’t be having your infusion.” Then, smiling, he gave me a big hug.

A little dazed, Ian and I made our way up to the fifth floor, where my nurse for the day, who had given me the IV and blood draw in the morning and had waited for hours to give me my last infusion, insisted on flushing my port anyway (I’m going to keep it for the time being; and it needs to be flushed every 4 weeks—but that’s flexible!—to make sure blood clots don’t form), and when she was done and we pulled back our curtain, a choir of nurses flung a pink and silver feather boa around my neck and sang a “You’ve finished chemo!” song that someone wrote. Ian teared up, and I teared up, and then they took pictures of us, and then the song finished and everyone cheered, including the lady in the infusion chair next to me.

And I hugged everyone and walked out with Ian, feeling much the way I did upon arrival in SeaTac last December after the ten hours of trans-Pacific turbulence hell, namely, a sort of grateful—and yes, euphoric—disbelief that I am still alive.

I’m very much looking forward to living the rest of my life outside the jar.


ACB said...

I love you so much...

Chiara said...

Amazing, amazing. I am so glad for you and so happy to get to be around you at the beginning of a time of freedom and change and new possibilities. I hope you wear your feather boa all weekend!

Kamal said...

I'm sitting here, Mr. Director in my Mr. Director big chair in my Mr. Director office all the way in China...crying like a baby. So happy for you Calin, dear friend. May this be a beautiful new chapter in your life. And may you get your healthy ass over here to come see me.

KateMV said...

I teared up reading it... I am so happy for you. I hope you and Ian have a good weekend together, being free.

Laura said...

Yup, crying at work. Way to go!

Jenny Healy said...

Calin, you are such a strong, kind, loving, wonderful woman and there are obviously many, many people around the world who love you very much. We're here for you!

Katie said...

My mom is smiling down on you Calin while my tears are rolling! I am so happy for you! You are an inspiration to all!

I love you cuz!


Anonymous said...

Congratulations!! I am so happy for you. Kick the lid off the jar and get funky with that mountain! You rock! - K8

SAME socks Laura said...

This is wonderful news Calin and Ian...and Spackle. Just like everyone else, I'm crying. The kind of crying that feels great though :) Thank you very much for writing about your experiences. I love reading them.

I want to load the kids in the van, drive up there and give you a big hug. Then I want to kiss your dog :)


Laura (with like socks, not different :P I love you too Laura)

Aunt Judy said...

Since I have never written a response to a blog, I am feeling that this one is a great way to start. I am so happy to learn of your good news. It seems so much longer than 5 years! I am not sure what I have written cuz my eyes keep watering. You have been so courageous through all of this and now comes your reward. Hope to see you in August or maybe you'll be on a trip already. Lotsa love and hugs! Does this make me a blogger now?

Anonymous said...

Your writing is wonderful. I still vividly remember the phone call that April in 1999 when you gave me the news. And since that time, you've been so immensely strong, and I've been so immensely oblivious. It's an experience just to read And Just Like That. You're truly amazing, Calin. I'm rotating through the Breast Imaging center now at SCCA. And each woman I met today had a look in her eye that I could now better understand. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Now, will you teach me how to rock climb? --TCW

Karen said...

I just read your email out loud to Uncle Paul and we are both in tears. We love you so much and can't be happier for you. Miracles and Medicines do go togeather. You have been very brave and such an insperation to all of us. Now you can plan really plan for your and Ians future. I hope to see you soon. Love Aunt Karen and Uncle Paul.

Alice said...

Alice saod...
King and I are so proud of you! You truly are an inspiration and especially because you share so freely. You are ours and we are yours, now and forever.