Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Fear of Recurrence

I had my six month check up on Friday. I had to take the children with me because they are out of school already for the summer so I dragged them kicking and screaming downtown to the oncologists office. Luckily for me, his office is in a new building next to the old building where I had my chemo. I used to have a Pavlovian response when I would pull into the parking lot of that building, becoming nauseous instantaneously. Now I rarely think about the six months of chemo I had when I walk into the building, that is until I see the women in the waiting room in their wigs and then it all comes flooding back to me.

As we sat in the waiting room, Bridget hung her legs over the side of the chair and Luke complained about the show that was on the television. I was just hoping that it wouldn't be too long of a wait. My patience was dwindling with them on the second day of summer vacation. I noticed an older woman looking at Bridget and smiling. The woman had on a wig and had a port catheter in her chest. Finally she asked me, "How old is she?" I replied that she was six. "My granddaughter is six too and she has the same color hair." I noticed that she had an Irish accent.

I began to talk to her and then she got up from where she was sitting and came to sit next to me. Normally I wouldn't have engaged in such an exchange, I never talk to the person sitting next to me on an airplane much less a stranger in the cancer center waiting room. But for some particular reason I wanted to talk to this woman. Maybe I was intrigued by her accent, being Irish myself. I explained that Bridget had gotten her red hair from my Irish grandmother who was originally from Galway. "I am from Galway too." She said. "I lived in a town called Tuam."

"I am never going to Ireland again though" She said. "I went the first time and six months later I got breast cancer. I was cancer free for eight years and then I went back for my nephew's wedding and six month's later almost to the day my cancer came back. I tell you I am finished with Ireland." I looked at her and suddenly my fear of recurrence surfaced from the back of my mind. I usually try to keep it back there, but on this day I couldn't keep it at bay.

Sometimes I have a dream that I have a huge tumor on my leg and it is the size of a grapefruit. It is on my calf and I am walking around trying to pretend that it isn't there when someone screams out, "Look at that thing on your leg!" I look down and realize that I have cancer again. Then I wake up in a sweat. So today, I look at this Irish woman, from the same town as my grandmother and I hope that in eight years it doesn't happen to me.

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