Friday, April 4, 2008

facing the dragon

Well, I did it. It took me the better part of a week to work up the courage and organize my myriad thoughts and fears into intelligent questions, but yesterday I finally made the phone call and scheduled my follow-up visit with my oncologist. I'll be having a CT scan the same day — Friday, April 18. Two weeks from today. This is the appointment where I will learn the success of last September's surgery, where the doctor will tell me whether I am cancer-free. I'll have to repeat it every four months for the next five years. I can't tell you how scary and nervewracking this is. How scared and nervous I am. Steve is scared too, but also optimistic. He has such faith that our doctor got the tumor out completely and that if anything new crops up, we'll catch it early this time instead of letting it go for five-some years (which is how long the doctor said the old tumor had been inside me).

This week of bonding with Ben and watching Daniel adjust to brotherhood has been for the most part happy. In fact, there are oxytocin-fueled moments when I feel as if I've never been happier and more content in my life. But around the edges, there are tinges of bittersweet when I think about the possible outcomes of my health. I wish I didn't have to imagine the possibilities. I wish I didn't have to wonder if the sweet, fragile newborn in my arms, with whom I have completely fallen in love, will grow up knowing his mother, or if my sons will inherit whatever freak characteristic or gene that caused my cancer. I'm sorry to sound so maudlin. I don't think it's healthy, and whenever I catch myself doing it, I try to balance it by visualizing the most wonderful outcome: having a clean CT scan, having the doctor tell me I'm in the clear. Oh, what a happy day that would be!

I am not yet ready to type the words of my diagnosis into Google's search bar and discover what information exists about my particular sarcoma. That will be my next step. I've avoided it all fall and winter, preferring to focus on my pregnancy. But at some point, I have to start learning about this scary, ugly part of my life. I just hope it provides empowerment and not more fear. Please, God.

A man I knew in an early job out of college used to ask me about my plans and counsel me from the perspective of one who was older and wiser. (He was probably younger than I am right now, and something of a player at that — I'm sure his attention may have been partly flirtation!) He once handed me a slip of blue memo paper with a quote he had written down for me. It was something along the lines of this idea: There's no better way to slay a dragon than to walk up to it and shove a spear down its throat. I have no idea where it's from, who said it, or even the correct words of the original quotation. I carried that blue slip of paper in my purse for years. I don't know where it is now, but I'm sure I still have it, sitting in a shoebox somewhere in storage. It comes to mind as an image for staying strong as I prepare to face my prognosis.


liz said...

Although I don’t want for you to dwell on the fear and anxiety surrounding your health, I do think it is valuable to an extent, because it teaches you to enjoy the time you have on earth and not take anything – your husband, your beautiful children – for granted. I think this is the silver lining of any experience with illness or death. I only hope you don’t spend too much time dwelling on the what ifs, because they are limitless... you could come back completely healthy and cancer-free, but be hit by a bus the very next day. I don’t want to be too maudlin either – just wanted to point out that since you never know, you should enjoy every minute that you have! But I know how Pollyanna that sounds, and anyway, it’s downright impossible. You have every right to be nervous and I hope that the coming weeks provide you with comfort, relief, and a feeling of control. You are in my thoughts, Em...

(I like the quote, too!)

Anonymous said...

Em, I wish I had the exact thing to say, but I don't think such a thing exists. Still, here are some comments that come to mind.

1. It's fine that you have not Googled any of this. Not that you're necessarily going to find bad stuff, but if you're not ready, then so be it.

2. Please don't think you sound morbid by philosophizing (sp?) about whether you'll be around to see the boys grow up. You should have seen me - in fact you've witnessed me at my worst when it comes to worrying about what cancer will do to me. It seems like if you appear relaxed about your cancer, people will say you're in denial. Yet people (sometimes the same people) will say you're being too morbid if you're NOT relaxed. So you can't win for losing in that regard.

3. Good for you for making that appointment with the onch. It's wierd having another sister who uses words like onchologist so casually - I'm so used to the words myself, and now you're using them too! (For better or worse...)

4. It's cool that you've totally fallen in love with Ben and that he's sleeping in your arms while you wrote your post.

Marketing Mama said...

I guess now that your pregnancy is over you have to deal with all this *stuff*, eh? How interesting that they think the cancer was growing for 5 years? Wow.

Your story is so amazing, Emilie. Little Ben truly saved your life. I'm so grateful you both made it through your pregnancy, surgery and delivery okay. It's absolutely amazing!

...and for what it's worth, I think it's great you haven't googled your type of cancer yet. You'll do it when you are ready!

kristine said...

I have a hard time finding following LIz and Missy... they have both replied to this so beautifully. I, too, think Ben is your little life saver and you will always see him that way. It's ok to be scared, you wouldn't be human if you weren't. Thankfully you have wonderful friends, family and a dear husband who help you stay (try to, ate least) optimistic about things. Steve is wonderful for being so positive.

Anonymous said...


Anyone who knows you or your story is inspired by your courage, sense of humor, and your strength. Even in dark moments when you may not see or feel "the good" but write any way, perhaps we (your readers) can. And hopefully we can reflect it back to you. Ben and Daniel have a tremendous mother. You are facing your dragon, unquestionably, beautifully, and your way.

--Laura S.

Jamie said...

Em, I don't have the exact right words to say to help you through this. I can tell you this: you are very strong, and you can face this. It's horrible and scary and it hurts a lot, but you can do this.

You are in my thoughts - I'll be "with" you in my thoughts on the 18th!