Have you ever experienced a moment in time that is just so fantastic you wish you could wrap your hands around it and hold on, to save and treasure forever? When everything just comes together perfectly and all your fears and heartache from the past dissipate and the world comes into focus? A sense of calm rushes over you and you feel weightless, as though only opportunity awaits you? This is how I felt last Friday when I received the best phone call of my life.
The night before my final PET scan felt very similar to the nights before chemo because of the anxiety I felt about the following day. I had one last test scheduled to determine whether or not the treatment had worked—to determine whether or not I was cancer-free, to determine if I could go ahead and live my new life. The night before my final PET scan brought back that same aching feeling of uncertainty that I have had ever since I was diagnosed with breast cancer ten months ago. Is the treatment going to work? How can I be sure? This is my life we are talking about here. I need to be sure!
There have been so many moments throughout this journey where I really resented God for not making our bodies transparent, so we could just check for any cancerous spots ourselves. Wouldn’t it just be so much easier if we could peek inside our own bodies instead of having to take all of these silly tests? When I was diagnosed and first learned that the lump I found in my right breast was cancer, I would place my hand on the lump and be completely mind-blown by the fact that I was millimeters away from a cancerous tumor. It was inside me. But today, after some VERY hard work, it is not.
Last Friday, I headed to the same hospital where I was born, where, 28 years later, I had my double mastectomy, where I went to get my voluntary menopause shot days before chemo began, where I sat in the chemo chair eight times for chemotherapy, where I laid on the radiation table thirty-five times for radiation treatment. Now I was there to get my final PET scan. It was the same old scene I experienced ten months ago—the same room, the same receptionist, the same chairs, and the same smell. I had been through so much, but here everything was just as it was when I had first visited.
Returning to this room was one of the strangest feelings I have ever had. I recalled the feeling I had for weeks after I was diagnosed that formed in the pit of my stomach. The feeling I had that my life had slipped beyond my grasp, and I was barely hanging on. I sat in the same chairs waiting for my name to be called. A similar friendly face called me to the back and informed my mom that the test would take about two hours. My mom and I hugged, just as we did ten months ago, before I went back to the room where I would be injected with “sugar water,” as they like to call it. Then they handed me a blanket and shut the door and turned off the light. Yup, you read that right. In order for a PET scan to be accurate you have to be calm. If you aren’t calm, your active thoughts can actually throw off the results of the test. So, I had to sit alone in a dark room for about an hour. I had to find a place of Zen, something I have been searching for my entire life and I was doubtful I would find it there. How was I supposed to be calm when I knew what this test meant? How was I supposed to be calm period when I knew my entire life was at stake?
After an hour of sitting on a cold, stiff chair and pretending to be calm, a man entered the room, the lights flicked on, and he announced it was time. I was placed on a table near a machine that looks much like an MRI machine. It was show time.
The test lasted about forty-five minutes. A nurse reminded me that I had to remain perfectly still, and I couldn’t help but laugh. When I was first diagnosed, and going to what felt like daily tests, I was always told that I had to be still: for my MRI, for my CAT Scan, for radiation simulations, for my PET scan. And every time they told me this, I would be like, “Umm, that is impossible. I can’t stay still for an hour. I just can’t.” And the employees would always return with the same response, “You have to.” But now, as an official cancer-killing alumnus, being still is no problem. I am considering becoming one of those carnival people that stands on top of an overturned bucket, my body and clothes covered in silver paint, pretending to be a statue. I feel as though I could do really well at that. I am not sure if that position is salaried or has benefits, but I am looking into it.
After being still, the test was finished, I returned to my mom, and the waiting began. We had been told that getting the results could take as long as three days. So I decided I had to be busy the entire time. Much like a dance marathon, I needed to keep moving until I received word. Luckily for me, that word came about four hours later. My mom and I were walking towards a bookstore when I got a call from the hospital. I grabbed onto my mom’s arm as we walked through the parking lot and answered. A cute little voice came on the phone and one of my oncologist’s nurses explained that she had the results and asked if I would like to hear them. I accosted her through the phone, “YES. I WOULD LIKE TO HEAR THEM.” And then the sweetest words I have ever heard responded, “There are no malignancies detected on your scans. There is no more cancer.” I thanked her and got off the phone and relayed the news to my mom. She was the first to burst into tears just like she had been the first one to break down in tears when I was diagnosed. My emotions are always trying to keep up! It takes me longer to process. When I saw her tears I immediately joined her and there we were, in the middle of the parking lot of a bookstore, sobbing and hugging and I think I was jumping up and down. We had done it! It was over! I couldn’t believe it.
We both kept sobbing and at some point we somehow ended up sitting down in the middle of the parking lot. People were staring. I didn’t care. I had made it. I am one of the cancer-free people again. And it felt so sweet. All the stress and the emotional and physical weight that these last few months placed on me evaporated. I could feel it all just lift off my shoulders and I felt light, completely irrepressible, and entirely free. We kept crying for what felt like hours. A man actually stopped his car, got out, and walked over to us to see if we were OK. I told him that I was crying happy tears and explained my news to him. He started cheering alongside us. He was so happy for me and I had never even met this guy before! It was quite a moment: my mother and I rejoicing over my good news in the company of the Barnes and Noble patrons.
After receiving the news, I called friends and family members and then I just kept smiling and randomly busting out sweet dance moves. I didn’t stop for days. I can’t sleep anymore because every night I think about all the things I can do with my life. My mind races with everything I want to do the following day now that I am cancer-free. I got my cancer-free life back. I can do anything I want. I can do anything in the world except stop smiling. It is the best feeling in the world.
I will never ever forget the feeling I had when I received that phone call, just as I will never forget how hard I had to fight in order to get that phone call. I am sure I will experience more heartache and more setbacks, but I am moving ahead in this next chapter of my life knowing I can handle anything that is thrown my way. I have this almost childlike appreciation for life now where every last thing is just cool and fabulous. A stick of deodorant can absolutely rock my world. I am going to work very hard to keep this mindset and I pray every day that it never goes away.