Ten days ago, Andy and I were talking about where we should go for the months of October and November. Should we stay in Mexico or head down to Belize? Maybe it’ll be time to visit Nicaragua or Guatemala.
Within a few days, the conversation had changed.
Suddenly I was talking to Andy about moving back to Oakland. About where we’d live since our house is being rented. About whether our part-time income would be able to support us in the expensive Bay Area. Suddenly the topics in my head were not pleasant ones: Spending the next four months undergoing chemotherapy for a recurrence of my ovarian cancer. Shopping for funky hats to hide my baldness. Filling prescriptions at the Kaiser pharmacy and visiting the local cannabis dispensary (has the first legal store opened yet?) to control chemo-induced nausea.
I wasn’t at surprised by the abrupt change in our conversation. Statistics don’t lie. Seventy to 80 percent of people with my stage and type of ovarian cancer get it again (and then again), with most first-time recurrences at around the 18-month mark. Only 46 percent of us survive five years after being disgnosed. I’ve already been cancer-free for almost 27 months. Much luckier than so many.
But had my luck run out?
Some abdominal symptoms started abruptly. I had an upset stomach followed by days of nausea, constipation and loss of appetite. I was also very tired. Many of these are symptoms of an ovaraian cancer recurrence, so I was concerned, needless to say. But at the same time, Andy was having a few similar symptoms. He had toughed his way through a 24-hour food poisoning bug the week before, and he too was constipated. But he still had an appetite and no nausea, and, unlike me, he was getting better.
After days of hoping I’d magically get better too, I reached out to my Mexican oncologist, Dr. Miguel Flores, and asked to be seen. He didn’t waste any time, agreeing to see me in his office the next day (a Saturday); he also had me take a series of blood tests, including the CA 125, a test for my ovarian cancer marker. Although cancer was a concern, the doctor (and I) both thought it was just a parasite or some such intenstinal woe. A disgusting worm wreaking havoc on my digestive system. Sure, but it could be something else, too. Just to be on the safe side, the doctor set me up with a prescription parasite killer and prescribed one for Andy, too, since he was having some stomach issues.
I couldn’t help it. I turned the conversations to, “Should we move back into our house in Oakland?” “Should we rent an apartment just outside of the Bay Area, Davis maybe, so we could keep the rent money rolling in?” Maybe we could stay with Andy’s mom in San Jose until we figure out our next move.
My reality is this. Every twinge, every muscle ache, every upset stomach is a constant reminder of a potential cellular party I don’t want to be part of. I try very hard to keep it all in check. On many days I’m able to distance myself from what was. And some days, (especially recently) I wallow. I read Inspire.com, (the ovarian cancer board) over and over. I search the internet for the latest ovarian cancer clinical trials and I read about new drugs that will magically push other women past the 5 year mark.
I was sad. And anxious. But I kept focusing on the fact that at least I got all this time — 27 months — without batteries of tests, without surgery, without chemo. Without cancer. It’s been more than two years in which I’ve been able to spend amazing times with friends and famly. Time that I got to enjoy several different cities in Mexico, and Japan, and South Korea, and a two-week cruise from Yokohama to Vancouver, and a road trip from there down to Oakland, seeing friends along the way. And to be with the man I loved. Time that has meant the world to me, and time that could not be taken away.
While I was in my scared mode, I spent a lot of time in wallow mode reading depressing cancer statistics. This did not improve my outlook or my mood, but it did help me cope. I was contemplative and quiet, a rarity for me. I shared the news with my immediate family. I told them I thought my cancer might be back.
Today I got my CA 125 test back from the lab. It was a low number and that’s great news. In the next few days I’l l get a CT scan just to make sure, but having a low CA 125 is a great indicator that the cancer hasn’t yet returned.
I think Guatemala sounds perfect for November, don’t you?