I hesitate to put words to it. What if I jinx it? What if I’m wrong? But I hate “what if’s” and also this is my blog. If I look foolish here because I’m wrong, it will only serve to let you experience more of my emotional roller coaster and show you the reality of how I feel. I’m believing I’m cured. Woah, woah, woah! Cured is a big and serious word in the cancer world. I’m not supposed to say that yet. It’s only been just over two months since my surgery. I haven’t had any follow up scans. I don’t think you can use words like “remission” or “cured” for years. However, since this entire thing has been a big faith (taking as fact that which is unperceived by the senses) walk, why not just keep walking that track? Heres the back story…
I was scheduled to start “maintenance chemo” a month ago. The problem was, you might remember, my body hadn’t been tolerating chemo well. We would have needed to find a new chemo that my body could tolerate at an effective dose. At this stage of treatment that would mean going into experimental territory. Experimental simply means using a chemo that wasn’t indicated for my specific cancer to see if it could have a therapeutic effect, obviously, without guarantee of success. Do I even need to tell you what the risks and the compromise to my quality of life would be? My oncologist, being the wonderful and straight forward human she is, told me, “There really isn’t a precedent here and I don’t know what to do.” Goes without saying, I really didn’t want to do more chemo and had a sense, for the first time since diagnosis, that I didn’t really need to. My oncologist asked her panel of experts and they all agreed, as there was no measurable disease, to pursue a “wait and see” approach to further treatment. Meaning, no treatment, to just wait and see if anything shows up. I have blood tests monitoring my tumor markers once a month and CT scans and circulating DNA blood tests once every three months. We’re keeping a close eye on what’s going on. My tumor markers the first couple weeks after surgery were unremarkable, my circulating DNA was zero, and post op scans showed we had gotten all the known cancer. My next scans will be sometime in the middle of December. We’re literally waiting to see. I don’t think we’re going to see anything so I’m not really waiting. What if I’m done with cancer? What does that even mean? What does that mean for my life?!
I get to recover from surgery like a normal person and not be rushed back into chemo and radiation! After all my other surgeries, I’d started treatments within six weeks. I’ve never actually recovered fully from surgery without feeling pretty sick from restarting chemo. At this point in my recovery, I feel great! I am two months post op. I’m off my narcotics and past that uncomfortable narcotic withdrawal thing. In truth, I hate withdrawals so much that I went off the pain meds a little early so I could just get past them and stop worrying about it. Managing withdrawal symptoms is basically a full time job. I am definitely ahead of the curve when it comes to recovering from major surgery! I’ve even returned to workouts and coaching with a mask on (which is quite a lung workout, let me tell you!). My strength is already coming back and I’m starting to push and lean into the discomfort of cardio workouts. I cough reflexively like crazy at the end of workouts and feel like I have asthma when I go a little too hard. Pulmonary capacity can be strengthened just like any other muscle. If you know me at all, you know I’ll work for it. I want it to look like I still have two lungs during training in six months. If COVID clears up I’d like to test my limits in a competition. I’m excited by the prospect of training without feeling sick and weak and look forward to seeing how much ground I can gain with my fitness.
This is where I run out of words and don’t really know what to say. Can it be that I am actually done with cancer? I am still hesitant to “call the game”, say I am “healed,” “cured” or “cancer free”. Where I absolutely believe that God will be the one to heal me and that once I am healed I won’t live my life looking over my shoulder, does that mean I have to be the one to say when that’s happened? Is that day really here? Do I minimize God’s power somehow if I call it early? Does it mean I doubt His power if there’s still a whisper that there’s more to come? What I have been saying with trepidation is I believe they got all the active cancer that was in my body and I don’t believe I am waiting for any cancer to show up. And just saying that means I risk being more heartbroken than I have yet been to date and looking very foolish if more nodules show up. I think that’s the crux of it, I’m very scared to be disappointed in the Lord. He’s been so gentle and kind to me as I stubbornly cling to Him. We’ve worked through a lot along this journey. It’s not what I would have chosen for myself or for my family or friends, or an enemy even, but as I’ve said before I’ve seen unspoken treasures.
I went to my oncologist to check my tumor markers two weeks ago. I was nervous. I didn’t really want to go. I’ve never been really nervous about tests before. It’s always seemed like it was something bigger than me, outside of my control, I trusted I was being taken care of, the path was set and I would be ok. (I don’t know how people live when they don’t understand or believe how much they are loved by God. Makes me feel sick to think about.) So to be nervous now is to say something has changed. Am I not as taken care of? Am I less loved? Is there, all of a sudden, something within my control that I can do? Well, no. So in truth, I shouldn’t be nervous. Yes, yes, it’s natural to be nervous about these things, but for me, it’s important to continue to wrestle for a bigger perspective than my own. In the big picture, nothing has changed. So practically, what does this mental stance look like? The blood test two weeks ago showed a slight elevation in my CEA (tumor marker) from 1.6 to 1.8. Anything below 4.0 is within normal limits so no big deal. But as things go with me, normally, any increase has meant an increase in cancer activity. So what does it mean? In my mental rules, I can’t let it mean anything other than a slight fluctuation. There are too many possibilities that can explain it. It could be due to lab error, systemic inflammation, my immune system responding to a virus, orrrr it could be because of increased cancer activity. Why would I commit myself to worry and doubt and focus on cancer activity and “what-if’s” over other possibilities? Instead, I am going to continue to wrestle for that bigger perspective. I am completely taken care of, deeply loved, and I still feel really good and am recovering well from a major surgery. Since life and God don’t operate independent of each other or in a vacuum, I also need to remember that the second I decided to settle my heart into a course of faith, there would be opposition to that course. Opposition to peace, trust, and joy. This season is full of it, fear, doubt and depression. Here’s the thing, peace, trust and joy are worth fighting for, so I will fight for them, against odds. He isn’t called the God of Hope for no reason, after all.
In two weeks I’ll recheck my labs and tumor markers, and we’ll schedule more scans. I should know by Christmas if I really get to start 2021 without cancer. What a dream that is! Guys, stand in peace and trust and joy with me! Let’s fight for those to reign in our lives! We all have our own versions of opposition to these things. Our own fears, doubts, and sadness. Guys, we need to fight to keep them in perspective and wrestle to have that bigger perspective of our life. Hope will always rise and there is always a dawn that ends the darkness! The story isn’t over. Your story isn’t over either.