This Saturday, I will be officially five years cancer free.
I think a party of sorts is in order.
Before I got sick, I always wondered how people determined when exactly their cancer anniversaries were. Some people I knew counted it from the day of diagnosis. Some people from the day they got an all-clear on a lab report. Some counted it from the day they first started chemo or radiation, and some others from the day of their last treatment. Even my oncologist told me there were different ways. He said he preferred to count from the day treatment began, but that others even in his practice counted it from diagnosis or treatment completion. Here is how I have determined mine:
Five years ago on July 26, I sat in a surgeon's office awaiting results for my second lymph node biopsy. The first one in early March had confirmed the cancer; we were hoping this one would confirm the remission.
Most Hodgkin's patients show signs of remission more clearly than I did. The lymph nodes shrink down to their previous nearly-impalpable size and a genius little test called a PET scan confirms that there is no cancerous activity in those shrunken nodes. But my body has never been one to follow the normal rules. After the prescribed course of chemo, I still had a sizeable node under my right arm. The PET scan showed no activity, but my oncologist wasn't entirely convinced; PET scans can't pick up on activity at the microscopic level. If the node wasn't still so big, the PET scan would have been enough to declare me in remission and I would have been sent in for a "mop-up" course of radiation; as it stood, the doc needed proof in the form of a biopsy before he was comfortable moving from chemo to radiation.
I had the biopsy and a few days later went in for the follow-up. I knew that one of the things I would learn would be the pathology results.
The physician assistant at the surgeon's office walked in.
"I love it when the doctor lets me give the good news," she said, and she handed me a piece of paper.
A quarter way down the page someone had highlighted the overall findings:
No evidence of Hodgkin's lymphoma. Mass contains scar tissue.
I never would have thought the words "scar tissue" could make me so happy.
So, Saturday is my big day.
It would be impossible for me to celebrate in person with all the people I'd like to celebrate with. You all are so scattered and some of you live a good distance away. So here is what I propose:
At 11pm on Saturday (eastern time), after our kids have been put to bed and our dinner plans over, at that time when most of us start to wind down a little, let's celebrate together. Jason and I will go outside on our deck, have a Unibroue, and smoke a victory cigar given to us by those awesome people we know in Georgia. I will toast all of you all. Drink with me! Or smoke with me. Or do whatever it is you do to commemorate a special moment. Raise a can of Coke high in the air if that's what floats your boat. I may not be able to be with you all in person, but I want to think that we are all celebrating together for five minutes on Saturday night.