My scans were clear.
On Monday, I had the scans. They lasted all morning, because even though the CT people were on schedule, the MRI people were not.
While I waited for the CT scan I rolled my eyes along with another woman waiting, and then we started chatting, and one thing led to another and I’d found a fellow melanoma patient. Who flies halfway across the country for her scans and checkups. She’s a couple of years farther into this than I, and I think she said that she’d probably be going to six month intervals for her scan. I thought to myself, #cancergoals I had hoped we would run into each other again, but our schedules didn’t match up. I did manage to mention this blog to her, however.
After the CT scan and before the MRI there was some of this, to break the fast.
I waited forever for the MRI. But I had eaten! And had coffee! And brought a good book! And a phone charger!
My time in the tunnel passed quickly. Except that enough time had passed between the CT scan and the MRI that the contrast dye from the CT scan had already begun wreaking its digestive havoc, and there I was on the MRI table. And so, for the first time, I asked for an update. But I’d managed to hold off doing that until there were only seven minutes left on the half hour.
Dr K had more to say about the amount of hair growing on my head than any activity inside my head. He’s a man of few words, so when he murmurs, “Huh. We’re at 23 months,” it isn’t just a restatement of the obvious. He’s quietly marveling. I have been around him enough to sense that, now.
After getting the good news, J and I kissed in the hallway and I started making the usual phone calls, sending the usual texts. How lucky I am that this can be “usual.” I know very well it could be Otherwise.
This always happens when I leave the hospital.
It always takes a couple of days to get the CT scan results for the rest of my body. And it is never easy to predict what things will be like in Dr P’s office waiting area. There have been times I find it completely empty, but today was not one of those times.
Today cancer patients of every stripe sat cheek by jowl, and family members, and interpreters, and even one patients interior decorator, or at least that’s how it sounded. A very rich sick woman was going over the building plans for her house. She was literally agonizing over where the pool should go. In this day and age, her attitude is such a shock, it is so hard to situate. She spoke for a good 45 minutes about the plans, and the type of ceramic stone she likes, and her differences of opinion with the architect. And guess what I didn’t have with me today? A good book. A phone charger.
When I went back for the blood draw, my favorite phlebotomist was not there. I inquired after him, and was told he had left. Hello, wherever you are, Phlebotomist B. I miss you!
Later, when N, the assistant, took my vitals, he seemed flustered, and told me that five different doctors were seeing patients in the office today. Not all of them melanoma doctors, either. This meant that in the tableau of suffering that came to surround us in the waiting room, there were people with other cancers, including the baddest of all (pancreatic).
When a patient was wheeled in on a stretcher, I averted my eyes. But when another arrived in a wheelchair and holding a bucket in his lap, I quickly steered J to the other side of the glass partition. How dare they? I was thinking. How dare they turn my waiting area into a waiting area for REALLY SICK PEOPLE?! (Clearly I still have some more work to do before I can consider myself as having fully embraced cancer-dom.)
Into Hour Three of our wait for test results, we got a bit punchy in the exam room.
At last, Nurse Practitioner Kathy came in. I’d passed her in the hall on the way back from the restroom, and she broke the good news about my scan to me right there. Then we went into the exam room, and with the door closed, we were able to have a bigger celebration, a bigger hug.
I had some things on my mind, though. First off, I asked for a drug holiday. We’re traveling soon, and the constant refrigeration required by Mekinist isn’t easy to achieve while en route. Last summer’s eye debacle in Italy proved that if I’m going to suspend taking one of the meds, it is far better to suspend both. My holiday was granted, after a consult with Dr P.
My next question was the one I’ve put off for two years. I was pretty sure I knew the answer to it, but a big poster in the exam room, which listed staging criteria for cutaneous melanoma, prompted me to finally just ask. “What stage was I? When? What stage am I now?”
It’s weird, right? That I didn’t have this information right at the point where my disease showed up or got more severe? But in my case, I’m not sure I needed that information back then. I felt so completely reassured by the course of treatment that was proposed to me, I didn’t seek a second opinion, and I don’t regret that now. I was and am lucky the treatment works.
Kathy was very, very careful with this conversation. I could see her weighing her words thoughtfully — one of my favorite things about her. She asked me what I understood about staging in metastatic melanoma. I told her that I had seen and read and heard enough to understand that stage isn’t all that important on its own, that response to treatment is important, and that one cannot use another person’s yardstick to measure their own progress.
Kathy seemed reassured enough by this to tell me that from the moment the disease entered my lungs, I have been at Stage 4. And that regardless of my progress in treatment, once you have been at Stage 4, you stay there, in clinical terms, forever. You can be Stage 4 with no active disease. That is what I am today.
So there it is. There is no wiping the slate clean, ever. But there is an understanding that this is not the only important thing written on the slate.
In Judaism, there is a specific prayer that is recited in public when one has survived a potentially life-threatening situation. This action I took today, it felt somehow adjacent to the impulse one might have to say that prayer. Now that we’re on the other side of it, let’s find out what it was called. So next time, we can call it by its name, if there is a next time.
I’m renewed for another tour of duty on this planet. I’m headed to a different part of the planet at the end of this week, one known as the Land of Enchantment. And I am fully ready to be enchanted.