Clean as a Whistle

In the fire that ignites my bones
It's in the water that brings life to my soul
It's in the blood that washes me clean
Shawn McDonald

Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.
Cormac McCarthy — "All the Pretty Horses"

I went back into the office today after working at home for the past three months or so. It was good, I guess, to get back to something more normal but I gotta be honest. I'm gonna miss working from home. It's a pretty sweet gig. Hanging out in either jeans — or some days just my jammies — and cranking some tunes without having to use headphones, having my commute be walking downstairs to eat some breakfast and then taking a cup of coffee back up to my desk. I could really get used to doing that all the time. (…sigh…) Oh well.

I went in for my first CT scan since the end of my treatments last week. The first of many to come, actually, since they will happen periodically or the next five years or so. Every three months for a couple years and then every six for the remaining duration. Since this was a head/neck cancer, there's a possibility of more after that depending solely on the discretion of the doctors.

The verdict for this one? Clean. We looked at the images in the office right after the scan and the doctor's initial reaction was that they looked good but he wanted to analyze them more intently and would let me know after that. He called the next day and confirmed that opinion. His words: "It looks like a standard post-operative, post-treatment scan." That's good. At the very least it's a good first step on what will be a bit of a longish trek.

With that step taken, it was time to ask the big question that will govern the next phase. Realistically, what sort of time frame are we looking at if this stuff somehow survived the bombardment we gave it and were going to metastasize. He told me it has the greatest chance of returning within the first 8-9 months. Then the odds drop a bit until the two-year mark. After that, the chances drop way down to less than 20%. And while that's good to hold onto, the rotten truth is that, even though they call it "cured" after five years of clean scans, there will always be a slim chance that it could take root somewhere. It gets slimmer and slimmer as time goes on — so that's good — but it will never be truly zero. I can live with that. But for now, I'm digging in for the first couple of years.

In a sense, though, this will always be with me in a very real way. I have scars that may soften over time but will always be very visible and will serve as a constant reminder of the surgery, the treatments, and the feeding tube — that scar doesn't exist yet but it likely will soon. One good part about going back to work is that I get to have lunch and conversation with my friends. One of their daughters was there as well today. I was at the hospital the evening after she was born so I've literally known her for her entire 19+ year life. Anyway, she asked if I would ever sound like I used to again. And the answer is, well, no. There are things I can do intentionally to improve my speech to be more like it was before all of this, but fake tongue being what it is, it just doesn't work the same and there are some sounds that just don't come out the same anymore. I've thought about looking into speech therapy at some point after things shake out but I don't know yet. Anyway, it's just another reminder. Not critical by any means but just constantly there.

But maybe it's not too bad of a thing to be reminded of it since it's also a reminder that I came through it relatively unscathed. It has been a tough road, to be sure, and there were some very dark moments. But I emerged into the light and, at this point, I'm pretty healthy overall. If I keep it in the right perspective it's a reminder of perseverance, of overcoming, of triumph, and of God's faithfulness and providence through it all. And I will gladly accept anything that points me back to Him.

I guess my scars and I will go into the future — together. So be it.