April 16, minus ten and minus eight

Ten years ago today I received a phone call from my dermatologist. He wasn’t calling to shoot the breeze. That phone call was my entry point to Cancerland. I remember getting up from my desk after the call, going to the front window that overlooked the street, seeing the Brooklyn trees starting to bloom, and thinking I might not see them bloom again. (Then I dialed J.)

And this was eight years ago. Getting good news about my lungs when my brain was full of tumors (but I didn’t find that out until the next day).

Like the specific pain of childbirth, the mind doesn’t want to let you remember every detail of medical ordeals. The fossil record of my stubbornness, however, is well documented here on the blog — like my insistence on keeping a lunch date and taking public transportation to the ER when I obviously had something very wrong with my brain. To read my account here, you’d think I mostly laughed my way through Stage 4.

I mean, I’d like to believe I did. But the flip side of the laughs is that I’ve spent a long time since the very intense two-plus years of active illness trying to wrap my head around it all. I should have died, but didn’t, and in the process I became some sort of poster child for immunotherapy and targeted therapy and gamma knife surgery. And every day that I wake up healthy, I add to the data. I express gratitude on a regular basis, and confess my deep survivor guilt with the same frequency.

It feels ungracious to disclose that my eyes, due to side effects from cancer medication I stopped taking over three years ago, are seriously messed up. The latest wrinkle being I can hardly make out text on a computer screen due to increased floaters and my new glasses prescription suddenly not doing much at all for me. Tomorrow I see my eye specialist again, the one who had to do a laser procedure on my secondary cataract a couple weeks ago — yes, turns out your repaired eye can grow a new cataract, but once that one is lasered, you’re supposed to be good to go. While we were out of town last week, though, a dramatic blood spot appeared in that eye. Turns out it was likely just trauma from the laser procedure and not anything urgent. Tomorrow, I’m going to insist to my doctor that the quality of my vision is impeding my ability to work. And we’ll just have to see where my eye specialist takes my concern, because he’s moving out of state at the end of this month…

I started the day with this song and its life-affirming walk down Portobello Road, sung by Caetano Veloso, back when he was exiled from his own country.

Later on, I joined a group of women for a hike. We’d been doing them during the pandemic and then sort of forgot about it. Today’s hike was a nice way to reconvene. We hiked on the other side of the Potomac River at Great Falls.

The calm before the rapids

After the calm section of river, things get rocky and ridiculous. While we stood at an overlook, I noticed the slow progress of a kayaker over rocks, holding their kayak aloft, preparing to get back into the water. We had to stick around to watch the marvel of someone navigating a terrifying stretch of rapids. It was impressive.

Better them than me

Something about watching someone defy death puts your own death-defying into perspective. (E.g. I seem to have beat cancer, so I don’t need to learn to kayak like that?) But along the trail there were a couple of sections that got rocky, and I found myself shaky and petrified at navigating them. So now I have my next thing to look into: is it my eye issues, my bad feet making me unstable, or some other kind of damage to my vestibular system caused by the gamma knife or the fact of having had cancer in my brain? What I’m not immediately worrying about, ironically, is cancer itself. My scans have decreased in frequency to every six months (I’m due for the next ones in early May), and I guess I just like sleeping through the night too much to let my brain start focusing on how this might possibly be something more serious. This type of thought experiment is not allowed.

Later in the afternoon, I attended a piano recital with my mom and Young A. Young A, who was three when this all started, and who just had a bar mitzvah not long ago. I could have missed that. I could have missed a world of things. Instead I got to sit in a concert hall with him and Mom (who turns 86 later this week) and enjoy a program of Schubert and Liszt. At dinnertime, I thought of drinking a toast with J. to my health. But we forgot. It’ll keep. There are many more cancerversaries to come, I have a feeling. I can pace myself.

Speaking of pacing myself, I’m running a 5K in early May to raise funds for the Melanoma Research Foundation. I haven’t done any running in quite some time, and although my knee was threatening to derail my training, I found a way to strengthen it and it isn’t hurting much anymore. If you’re able and haven’t done so already, would you consider kicking some funds over to MRF? Thank you!

I’ll be back in May (Melanoma Awareness Month) with a blog post I’m writing for work and with my scan results and maybe more random musings.