I started chemotherapy on April 19, 2017. My treatment plan was 12 rounds, doled out over six months. Since April, every other week I’ve gone to the infusion center at Emory Hospital and had three different types of chemo. The days have been long and boring. This past Wednesday, October the 4th, I got my 12th treatment. As of this past Wednesday, I was technically “done” with chemo. It is the tradition on your “last” day to ring a bell. I remember sitting there, at treatment 5 or 6 or 7, and being so excited to hear the bell ring. It let me know that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and if that person can get there… so can I.
So in keeping with tradition, I rang the bell. And hit a gong. It was nice. People cheered, people said congratulations. It felt good to be “done.”
I know I keep using quotation marks. It’s because I don’t really feel “done.” I still have to get MRIs and CT scans, I still have a couple of months of smaller maintenance treatments. What “ended” was the oxaliplatin, which is the drug with the most side effects, and the 5F-U, which requires the use of the dreaded fanny pack. Being “done” with those two is a major relief, and I don’t want to understate the significance. But I also don’t want to tempt fate, you know? I don’t want to rouse cancer and make it angry. I don't want to let it think I think I’ve beaten it. I just want to go about my business, quietly. Because having been through 12 rounds, one thing I know for sure is that I don’t want to come back and do it again.
This six months has been a long process. I barely remember life before chemo. In my darker moments, I’ve wondered why me? Why was I the one to go through this? I see my other friends headlining stand up shows or making movies or having plays produced. They’re going on vacations and booking TV shows and making their Broadway debuts. That could all be me. I traveled pretty high in a lot of those circles. Why are they there, and why am I here?
But then I remember all the things that have gone right. Cancer is something that people die from, and I’m still here. The tumor was slow growing, not aggressive. The treatment has been working. I’ve grown closer to my family. My girlfriend. My friends. I’ve started a blog. People have read what I’ve written. These are not insignificant things, and I have no idea where they will lead.
Why me? Why not me?
I often think back to that first day at the oncologist office, to the beginning of my story, when they told me I’d be getting chemotherapy. They sent in the team- the pharmacist, the nutritionist, the therapist, all these people telling me things that, at the time, I wasn’t capable of understanding.
Sometimes I think about the person sitting in that chair today, at the beginning of their story, getting the news, unsure of what is happening. I want to tell them that it will all be ok. I don’t know that it will, but that’s what I want to tell them. The one thing I do know is that the “end,” whatever it is, won’t be what you expect.
My friend who finished his treatment a year ago texted me, asking me how I felt. I said I wasn’t sure. I was “done” but didn't quite feel like it. I asked him if that feeling goes away. He said it really doesn’t. Cancer is not a part of your world until it is, and once it is… even if it’s gone it’s there.
So I’m putting “last” in quotation marks because the truth is I have no idea.
I’m still not out of the woods. In fact, I live there.
That is my story.
But it’s your story, too.
It’s all our stories. It’s the one thing we have in common. None of us truly know what is coming next. Which is thrilling, and horrifying, and human.
So here’s to my “last” treatment. Hopefully it will be. In the meantime I’ll try and make the most of the time I’m given. And enjoy these woods as long as I have the chance.