Following the festivities of Halloween (2010), we swiftly made our way through November experiencing the typical peaks and valleys. We never knew the specifics of what we were about to face, but one thing we did know was that the highs and lows were inevitable, and during the rollercoaster ride we needed to stay buckled up with our hands inside at all times.
November started off unlike any other - on a positive note, a glorious note, a perfectly pitched note – I was deemed Cured of my cancer diagnosis.
It had been five years since the fateful day in which Dr. LaPierre from the Skin Cancer Institute of Chicago sadly informed me and Steve that the sample he’d taken from my infected fingernail bed turned out to be malignant. Five years since I’d been confused enough to ask, “What does malignant mean?” Five years since I turned to Steve for clarification, but instead was met with a look I’d never seen on him – pure terror – framed with tears streaming down his face. Five years since I’d received my draft papers into a battle for which I’d never enlisted.
The day of my appointment, Steve and the kids joined me. I hadn’t gone solo to a “milestone” appointment since the fateful day – five years ago – when the tumor had been biopsied and I sat alone in the cold, institutional room shaking from fear of the unknown, coupled with the pain of the procedure (no one knew that my simple dermatology appointment would escalate to something like that – it happened in the blink of an eye). It was beyond frightening to go through that all by myself, and Steve vowed that I never would again. He’d been there every single time since.
So there we sat, waiting for Dr. Gajewski to knock on the door. The kids did their best to keep me preoccupied with their songs and performances, but the air was thick. Steve and I occasionally locked eyes and nervously smiled. I had undergone a CT-scan the week before and the results of that would be the deciding factor as to whether or not I was Cured.
It felt like a million years past - the clock was ticking in super slow motion - and then we heard it, the casual knock. “Come in,” we happily shouted. I don’t know why we were pretending to be joyful. It was an act. One of our best performances. Underneath the brave exterior, Steve and I were a crack away from the dam exploding and water flooding the room.
Dr. G began the conversation with idle chit-chat. I nearly crumbled onto the floor in front of him. Could he hear that? That loud pounding. It was practically the only thing I could focus on. Such a loud distraction. What the hell was that? Took me a moment to realize… it was my heart beating – rapidly, fiercely. If I was a cartoon character, Dr. G would have seen a heart shape protruding from my chest with each beat.
Every comment he made about the kids and question he asked about how we were doing emphasized the insignificance of it all if the results were bad. Why was he torturing me? Us? Didn't he realize we were holding our breath?
Finally it clicked. He noticed the frightened puppy dog look on my face. His eyes softened with apology, and while making a shoeing motion with his hand said, “Your test results are great. Nothing showed up.” Cautiously I asked, “Does that mean I’m Cured? It’s been 5 years. What does that mean?” His face lit up and he smiled, “Yes, it means today is a day for celebration”, and with that he opened his arms for an embrace.
I was a survivor. I AM a Survivor! I survived stage 3b melanoma (skin cancer) which had a 40% chance of survival.
That was one of the best days of my life. Steve and I called everyone we knew, we made announcements on Facebook and Twitter, we celebrated what we’d been hoping for, praying for, working toward for five years. It’d all come down to that moment…
And even though it was a week day, we called a sitter, got dressed up in our hottest, sexiest clothes and we went out for a night on the town. We had steak, we had wine, we toasted, we cried, we sat on the same side of the booth cuddling next to one another, we smiled as we reminisced about how scary the journey had been and how victorious it felt to be on the other side.
We were free of the fear of our children growing up without a mother, of Steve becoming a young widower and single father of two. We were, for those few hours at dinner, transported back in time – back to the carefree days during the first nine months of our marriage when I was yet to be diagnosed. We picked up where we’d left off.
It was everything we’d dreamed and more!
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