Here we are again, I think.
My husband and I are sitting in the surgeon's office, staring nervously out the window. We've been waiting for almost an hour, and the tension is unbearable. Every now and then we shoot each other a smile meant to encourage, but it's a weak attempt. We're both terrified.
We're waiting to hear the biopsy results from my surgery ten days ago, to find out if the cancer is gone, or not. We were told that we'd hear the results earlier in the week, but all week the phone didn't ring. All I can think is that the surgeon put us off to give us bad news in person.
Finally, the door opens, and the surgeon steps inside and quietly shuts the door behind him. His face is unreadable.
"Well, your pathology results are finally back," he says, neutrally. Then his face breaks out into a huge smile and he says "there is no sign of active cancer. It's the result we wanted. Congratulations."
My husband leaps up to shake his hand, and I quietly burst into tears.
Just like that, we're free.
On the drive home, I'm quiet, contemplative. I feel like an entirely different person, with my head uncrowded by fear. Now I'm just a regular person driving home, instead of someone constantly thinking about her own mortality.
I think about second chances, and realize that I've been here before. When I got sober, when I finally wanted to be sober, I looked at life with the same fresh eyes. There was no such thing as an ordinary day in early sobriety; each day felt scrubbed new, every experience and interaction was tinged with a sense of wonder. Here I am, doing this, and I don't want to drink, I would think to myself as I gave the kids a bath, or went to the grocery store. Everything ordinary was suddenly extraordinary.
I feel that way again. So this is, in fact, my third chance. I woke up yesterday morning fixed breakfast for the kids, joked around, laughed. I felt as light as air, free of the fear that has been tethered to my every thought for so long.
Just like with recovery, though, this is a lifelong thing I'm up against. I will be an alcoholic for the rest of my life; the goal is to remain an alcoholic in recovery. I will be a cancer patient for the rest of my life, too. The follow-up is extensive for the first two years, every six weeks for the first year. Every three months for the second year, with imaging/scans done at least three times a year. My surgeon told me I will see him at least once a year until he retires.
The goal is to stay a cancer patient in remission.
I am still in a fair amount of pain, and I'm still tired a lot. And now I have an impressive 6 or 7 inch scar that runs down the left side of my neck; a permanent mark of the ordeal we've been through for the past six months.
Second and third chances do not come without leaving scars.
I treasure my scar, because it's a reminder to do something with life. To treat each day like a gift, cradle it in my hands and appreciate its beauty, but also its fragility. The ordinary truly is extraordinary, it just usually takes a cage rattling experience, like cancer, to really see it, to really feel it.
Last night I started to get a little cranky. I was tired, it was late, and we hadn't eaten. The kids were whiny, and I didn't know what to do about dinner It was such an unfamiliar feeling - cranky - that it took me a minute to identify it. I have been so full of fear for so long there wasn't any room for a frivolous emotion like cranky. I found myself laughing at the very idea of it.
I hope to hold onto this sense of wonder as much as I can. But, just like with sobriety, I know the sheen will dull, and it will take vigilance to remember how it feels when you are newly back from the brink. The trick is to carry enough of the fear with me that I remain grateful, but not so much that I lose myself to it. The tools I have learned in recovery will help me with this: look back, but don't stare.
Thank you, all of you, so very much for all your prayers, good wishes, gifts, cards, texts, emails, letters -- everything you have done to carry me and my little family through the past six months. I don't know how I came to be so blessed, and I am so very, very grateful.