Remission: permission to freak out . . . by Terry Godbey
Since emerging from a year of treatment in the summer of 2011, my January mammograms have each led to fears that the cancer had returned and torturous stereotactic biopsies to discern that it hadn’t. (Each July, I skate through these tests.) So my New Year’s resolutions have less to do with losing weight than with making it to mid-January without a nervous breakdown. In the cancer world, there is a name for this condition: scanxiety.
Back when I finished treatment – 11 chemotherapy sessions, a lumpectomy, six weeks of daily radiation – I asked my oncologist if I had been cured. She paused, then said somewhat robotically: “You are in remission.” Remission. It smacks a bit of intermission, that halfway point in the drama where you stretch your legs, grab a sip of beverage and make small talk before the final half of the play, the conclusion.
My remission seems a lot like that. I am waiting for the lights to blink several times, my signal that it is time to make my way back to my seat – a recliner draped with worn cancer quilts. I am waiting for the red and gold curtains to part once again. I am waiting for Act 2.
Well-meaning friends insist I shouldn’t feel this way, even suggest that if the Big C does return, I will have put out the welcome mat with my negativity. Perhaps they are right, but I can no more sweep away this anxiety than I can fire lasers at stray cancer cells that may be gathering in groups and plotting my demise, much like the clique of high school girls angry because I had danced with one of their boyfriends.
I can’t stuff these feelings in a box and add a pretty ribbon. I can’t wash them away with a champagne flute (though I may try). We all struggle with our mortality, but I’ve seen the Grim Reaper. He was there when the Adriamycin (also known as Red Devil or Red Death) flooded my veins. He was there in the lead-lined room. He was there when the surgeon took too many lymph nodes.
He faded, finally, but every holiday season he’s back, waiting in the wings. With luck, I’ll have reason to celebrate 2014, but not until the second week of January. That’s all I want for Christmas. That’s the toast I’ll make on New Year’s Eve.
Terry Godbey’s newest poetry collection, Hold Still, will be out in early spring 2014. Check out more of her work here: terrygodbey.com