Five years ago today I walked out of the Markey Cancer Center after my final radiation treatment. It was strangely bittersweet. I was certainly glad to be at the end of that journey and to get on with the business of healing, especially given the state my mouth was in at the time. I could see a light at the end of that cancer tunnel and that was encouraging. But there was another side of that coin.
Every day for six weeks I had been going through this routine and I had grown accustomed to it. I had subjected myself to the techs, been clamped to a table with a breathing tube in my mouth, been injected into a large, noisy machine, and lay motionless while high powered X-rays were shot into my head. But I had also joked with those techs, shared TV recommendations, and talked about what life outside the lead-lined walls looked like. I had been sitting in the waiting room with the same people and learning bits of their stories. We were an organic, unofficial, and ongoing club that none of us had asked to join and with a constantly changing membership. New patients would show up with that same trepidation and apprehension that we all had in our first days and we would try to gently welcome them in without being intrusive. And we would watch as some people simply didn't show up anymore. As they completed their treatments and proceeded to their next steps, they disappeared from our group. As I walked out on that final day, suddenly I was the guy who wouldn't be showing up anymore. And I knew that I would somehow miss it.
So now I'm here, five years later and, since all of my screening has shown no evidence of recurrence, I'm considered cancer-free. I'm celebrating this momentous occasion by doing nothing different than I do every other non-cancer-free-day-marking Wednesday because, that's really the point, isn't it? The whole goal since I first got my diagnosis was to get back to the point where I can be considered "normal" again - whatever that means. So today is just a normal day.
Dear readers, I thank you all for your thoughts, your prayers, your druidic chants, your voodoo rituals, whatever you did to spur me on over the past five years. It's not a ride I want to go on again but I have to acknowledge that some good has come from it. I have learned things about myself, who I am, who I was, and who I want to be. My character has shifted in a positive direction and I'm more empathetic now. I struggle to keep all of that in mind at times when all I can see are the negative changes. Those are significant but they're all external and pretty meaningless in the grand scheme. They only affect what the world sees. But character is who you are when nobody's looking and I'm getting more accepting of that as time goes on.
You know what? I just changed my mind. I'm going to celebrate after all. I'm gonna shake my daily routine to the core and have a blow-out bash.
I'm gonna go have a Pop-Tart.