Monthly Archives: October 2016

Delayed

scanWhen Toban came to find me in the cancer center waiting room, we both knew that was probably one of the most important days of our lives. So he immediately started to laugh when he got close enough to realize what I was doing in the meantime. I was on the phone with CNN explaining the prosperity theology of Donald Trump.

My pager buzzed and the nurse called my name.

“Oh, shoot, can I call you back?” I told the reporter. “I have to go find out if I’m going to live this year.”

We were so nervous that we both felt a little ill. There is a lot of nothing in hospitals, a lot of the buzz of florescent lights and listening for the scraping sound of my chart being taken out of the holder on the door. So we did what we could do. We prayed. He held my sweaty hands. And he complied with my request to play the song “All I Do is Win” on repeat because hyper-confidence in the midst of desperation makes me laugh.

The doctor came in as I was singing the chorus “All I do is win, win, win no matter what!” at a volume not entirely appropriate for a health care setting. But when I saw the smile on his face, I allowed myself to finish up the chorus and a verse.

It was good. It was better than good. It was magnificent.

After having stopped chemo, there were no signs of new tumor growth. Which means that the chemotherapy wasn’t doing anything but hurt me. And that the immunotherapy is working, working, working. As far as the studies can show, the tumors won’t grow. At least not this year, which is as far as the studies go.

It is so good that my brain can hardly process the implications. I will continue to get regular scans, but it is officially completely reasonable for me to be confident. And relaxed. And happy. I will trade old problems for better problems. Instead of trying to gauge whether these tumors will grow, we will be discussing whether we should be surgically removing them or only keeping an eye on them. We will talk about how, someday, I will drop immunotherapy all together when it seems like my body knows how to effectively target those foreign cancer cells. We will hold our breath and wait for the next big advancement in cancer research while I stay what I am—incurable. But I can live with incurable. As long as I get to live.

In truth, it is so good that it was hard to sit down and write this blog entry. I was absolutely swamped the last few days with an out-of-town conference and a surprise (but wonderfully welcome) family visit. I thanked God like a wild woman but it has not yet occurred to me that I can relax for a minute and acknowledge that, for now and the near future, I am fine. I’ve been so accustomed to creating the momentum I need to endure these highs and lows that I hardly know how to sloooooow down.

This fact was obvious from the moment I emerged from the doctor’s office on Wednesday with The News. At the moment I should have been weeping for joy, I finished my appointment, walked out of the cancer center, and dialed the first number that came to mind.

“Hi! Yes. I’m back. I get to live this year! I should call my parents. But first, quickly, let’s finish talking about Donald Trump.”

 

Certainty

door

Something that has always driven me a little bit crazy about Christians is their desire to be certain. About everything. Precise age of the earth? Know it! Celestial status of all people who die without knowing the rules of Canadian football? Got it! The world of belief, it seems, is only safe if it is known. Every corner of the Christian faith must be mapped, or it is nothing at all.

I once took a class on apocalypticism and the belief that the world would end, and I remember being especially upset that scholars had created a category for Christian prophets who wanted to predict things after they had already happened. They politely called it “retrospective prophecy.” I feel fairly certain it’s called “being a know-it-all.” Some things are shrouded in mystery, and anyone who pretends otherwise is probably also the kind of person who cheats at golf. No one wants to play the ball as it lies.

So let me tell you this, before it happens, so that you know where I’m at. Until recently, I was fairly convinced that I would die soon-ish. I thought, since I am pretty scrappy, that I could string things along as best I can. But I know that I am on the very edge of what medicine can promise. So when it came to stopping chemotherapy and testing the effectiveness of my immunotherapy drugs, I was trying not to be morbid. I know that it means that I will either die this year or live on. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll actually make it. But I didn’t know when I should finally find out if this is working.

So I prayed. I said, God, I don’t trust myself. Give me some advice. And I am only saying this because if I am wrong, I will need you. But if I’m right, I want you to know what I believed. I believed that God answered my absurdly specific prayer.

I’ll keep this general, because I don’t want to embarrass the people involved, but the next day I got an e-mail that said, hey, I don’t know if you remember me but I’m an oncologist and I read that you are trying to make a decision about stopping chemotherapy drugs. Do you know about this world expert in your particular cancer? I already talked to him about you and he can answer any questions you have. So I emailed the world’s leading expert in my cancer. And he immediately said, STOP CHEMO. And so I confirmed it with my oncologist, and I took a deep breath. And I laughed.

I stopped chemotherapy drugs because I believe that my immunotherapy drugs will hold. And because I believe that God gave me a sign, even though I barely believe in signs. But I do believe that sometimes when you ask God for things then something suprising happens. God answers.

So, my darlings, I want you to know that I am a little bit terrified that I will get scans that tell me that my tumors have grown, which means that I was always going to die this year. And that I am planning a dinosaur birthday for a boy who will only have a dad next year. But that I have hope that this will work and that God and good doctors reached into my life and said, It’s okay. You’re okay.

But in any case, I will let you know on Wednesday. And, in the meantime, I have been in Italy eating chips which taste like meat–because that’s their thing–and drinking wine from the Tuscany coast because that’s also their thing. And forging ahead ahead because, hey, you can’t be certain of anything.