Yesterday my husband and I drove from the Cape to Boston so that we could finally meet the oncologist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute with whom we have been talking on the phone and corresponding via email since my diagnosis in January of this year. Think of him as my oncologist pen pal.
I had both of our children at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital very close by and numerous doctors appointments in the Longwood medical area over the eight years we lived here so I had passed the Dana Farber maybe a couple dozen times.
During those eight years of driving past the DFCI, however, “cancer” had occupied in my consciousness only a small corner as a nebulous malady. I stopped thinking about cancer as soon as the buildings were behind me. But yesterday was different.
Yesterday we pulled up and there it loomed. The Dana Farber Cancer Institute. This time we were driving right to it, not stealing a glance as we whizzed by. And we were going there for me.
It was pretty fucking weird. Even though all my treatments were over. Even post “end of shit.”
We parked the car and walked in to register for my appointment. I was issued a Dana Farber card, a bracelet and a badge. Cancer bling.
I was a little apprehensive. It’s odd coming in to see someone new, especially a heavy hitter, about something for which you have already been treated by someone else. On another continent. We had shipped my pathology over here and all of my medical records. So the DFCI had it all and had time to review it with fresh eyes. I wondered whether there would be a difference of opinion. And what the hell they would do about it ex post facto.
But despite my slight uneasiness about the situation, I knew that seeing someone in the US was the right thing to do. Good to have a reality check. Good to have someone in the New World who knows me and my case.
And you know what? It turned out just fine. Doc said I looked good and that he was satisfied with the treatments I’d had. There were no red flags. This was a relief, considering that twenty percent of the pathology the DFCI receives from other hospitals warrants some difference of opinion from its pathologists, including, at times, that there isn’t any cancer at all. Can you imagine coming in after surgery, chemo and radiation, or some combination thereof, and finding out that you never needed any of it? I would hope that in most cases, that significant a difference of opinion is rendered prior to and not following intervention. Dang.
It dawned on me that it wasn’t until the oncologist had made his pronouncements that I felt officially finished with treatment. Because until then, there was still that infinitesimal question mark about whether all the right stuff had been done.
So now I get to sit around and watch my hair grow back and wait for my thumb nail to fall off and fun shit like that. Lament the fact that I sort of missed the boat on my planned chemo makeover video because in two short weeks my eyebrows grew back with such vigour that penciling them in is just gilding the lily. Stop being a cancer patient and resume life as usual. As a survivor. A hairy survivor (but more on that later).
Someone once asked a group of us if we took issue with the term “survivor” and said that a lot of people dislike it and really struggle with it. What? Why? I raised my hand. I said “well, it sure beats the alternative.” Ain’t it the truth.