It is one year since I walked out of my last radiation treatment, into the California sunshine, moving from the life of a patient to the life of a survivor. There are so many signs that I’ve moved on– my hair is longer, my scars have faded, and my children are growing up before my eyes. In other ways I’m amazed at how up close and threatened I continue to feel by cancer.
A couple of weeks ago my sister and I flew down to Philadelphia to visit my father in the hospital. He had been transferred there from NY for a specialized procedure (which he did not ultimately need) following his recent surgery. While it was not an ideal circumstance, the three of us did share quality family time together. He offered us some ice chips; we fed him Jell-o. Due to some wifi and ipad challenges, it took two days for my sister to stream The Godfather, my father’s favorite movie. I tensed up listening to the gunshots in the opening scene. Like the mafia, cancer strikes when you least expect it.
The visit really should have been all about my dad, but being in the world of constant needles, gloves, Purell, and pain medication triggered some post-traumatic stress. To the nurses and doctors attending dutifully to my father, I am a healthy daughter of a cancer patient. They have no idea that not so long ago I was the one hooked up to the IV pole, with my healthy father sitting by my side. I found myself wanting to scream out to the doctors, Hello? I need your help too! I AM NOT RECOVERED! I am so desperately terrified of my next scan! Why is nobody helping me?
To my friends and family I want to sound a similar alarm: Just don’t forget people. I am in danger! Just like Don Vito Corleone, the Godfather, (and my doctors) I’d like to be the one to order some shots. Then, everyone else can feel for a moment what I feel alone, every day, and twice a year inside a cold, scary, PET/CT scanning machine. It’s so utterly awful and selfish to think that and yet I feel such relief admitting it.
My father is the opposite of selfish. He never asks for anything. He only wants for it to be warmer outside so he can sit in the sun. If only something like that were enough for me. I wish my recent, clear PET scan would just be enough, but a clean scan cannot tell me what I so desperately want to hear from my doctors– that the cancer is without a doubt gone, dead. BOOM!
Every three months, I return to the revolving hospital doors, and wonder how I am going to keep up the stamina to face the threat of cancer. If only it were as simple as carrying a gun to protect me.
Stage direction: Rapidly dividing cells invading my body. (Gunshot – BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!)
No more mammograms. No more breast MRIs. No more PET scans.
Peter Clemenza, old friend of Don Corleone, leaves the crime scene and delivers an alternate version of his famous line:
“Adina, honey. The cancer is gone. You don’t even have to worry about eating sugar anymore. Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”