Fall has finally arrived in the Northeast. After several months of soggy hot summer weather, and a slow start to Fall, the temperatures are beginning to drop, and so are the leaves. For people like me who hate heat and humidity, when Fall begins I start to feel like I’m coming back to life.
Four years ago, Fall began to take on new meaning for me. In mid-October of 2014, after three months of visiting all kinds of specialists who were having difficulty making a diagnosis, I began treatment for a fourth-stage metastasized cancer “of unknown origin in the lymph nodes of my groin. Despite numerous biopsies no one was sure where the cancer had originated which made treating me a guessing game. My oncologist finally decided, for various reasons, that it was probably originally cervical cancer and began the appropriate treatment.
During treatment I withdrew into a cocoon-like state; everything that happened around me was a blur. My treatments ended in mid-November. In late January I had a PT Scan to determine the outcome of my treatment and was scheduled to see my radiologist a few days later for the results. I remember those few days as a period of intense awareness of the fact that the results of the scan would determine my fate.
The morning of the appointment with the radiologist, I was awakened by my husband holding the telephone toward me. It was my radiologist saying “I have good news. You are cancer free!” I was stunned. Of course I had hoped for good results but I never dared to hope for complete remission. It took a few moments for her words to register. “You don’t have to come in today for your appointment, but I’ll see you in a month for your next appointment.”
That was four years ago and I’m still (as far as we know) cancer free. I don’t think any surviving cancer patient ever believes they are entirely free from cancer; there’s always a little voice sitting on your shoulder whispering into your ear: “Don’t get too confident; this could come back at any time.” I know this because I’ve talked about it with other survivors. I’ve also learned from them to welcome each day I am alive and to experience life one day at a time. It’s true that having cancer is a life-changing event. I am more compassionate with others who are struggling with health issues; I am more forgiving of myself for not being able to do many of the things I once did with ease; I am less tolerant of those who complain with little cause; and I seek what will bring me joy.
I am fortunate that I had just retired when I received my cancer diagnosis, so I have had the luxury of time to learn how to live my life in a better way. I am as busy as I ever was before I had cancer, but now I do more of what I choose to do and less of what I “should” do. In the past three years I have traveled extensively, joined a delightful senior yoga group, volunteered for educational programs at the nearby Walt Whitman Birthplace site, participate monthly in a Great Books Discussion Group at the local library, read every book I can get my hands on and take walks whenever I can, weather permitting.
Fall has become my season of renewal; I hope I will be around to enjoy it for many years to come. With the birth of my first grandchild, due in about six months, I have a lot to look forward to and be thankful for. Life is a gift that keeps on giving.