It is Christmas Day and this day in April. My two most difficult days of the year. Christmas Day, an empty house which used to be filled with husband, wife and little sons. The prime day for grieving my family, such it once was. The day in April is my yearly cancer check up.
2009 I went through treatment for breast cancer. Surgery, chemo, radiation. One year of fighting fear, pain, loneliness, nausea and loss. Fighting for life.
I am actually still on treatment. Five years of hormones to keep the estrogen from my body. Six months still to go, and I am counting the days now. I have gained about 25 pounds (which makes me extremely unhappy) since the cancer, and some of it (I hope a large part) is due to the hormones which makes me swollen.
Anyway, this year the cancer check up happened Monday. It is a full day of fun. And the fact that I can’t really walk or sit or get around doesn’t help. I needed physical and mental support. People are tied up with work on a regular weekday though, and in my mind I browsed friends and family trying to solve the problem. In the middle of all that Maria P happened to call me, and she was the one coming to my rescue!
Maria P is Trouble 2’s girlfriend Audrey’s mother. She opened our phone call with telling me how much overtime she had been doing these last few weeks and ended with offering me spending a day of the free time she therefore was entitled to at the hospital with me. Wow. I can’t say how grateful I was. Not only because the practical problem was taken care of, but because I knew, in spite of the circumstances, it would be a nice day.
First stop at the University Hospital is the department for Nuclear Medicine where I am injected with an isotope which needs three hours to run through the body before I am spending about 30 minutes lying in a scint camera checking through my complete skeleton for abnormalities. I am not fond of this situation. Lying there, knowing the nurses can see things which are hidden to me makes me very uncomfortable. Same thing with the mammogram.
I have a yearly date at Nuclear Medicine though! Agneta, a childhood friend from the small town where I grew up works there, and to be welcomed in this uncomfortable situation with a so-happy-to-see-you-again hug really helps. We also take the time to actually sit down and update each other of our lives. Which, sadly, through these five years mostly have been distress and sorrow for the both of us, even so this time. Still, that moment of sharing is warm and rewarding, and we both feel a little bit happier when saying good bye for this year.
It’s funny, the University Hospital in Umeå is the biggest hospital in northern Sweden with about 6000 employes. Yet, also my oncologist is from the same small town as Agneta and me, and we are all born the same year! Birgitta and I were even in the same class in junior high. And Birgitta is the last stop for the day.
Maria P and I have had a nice day. Lunch at her place while waiting for the isotopes to do their job. A fika (a sit down coffee/tea with a little something) having my favorite Danish in the Cancer Center cafeteria while waiting for the labs and different body shots to reach Birgitta.
In the waiting room though, waiting for my oncologist (because that’s what she is in this moment), I am telling Maria I need to focus. On why I am there. I have had such a nice day, I am not sure I will be able to take in negative news. So, entering Birgitta’s office, sitting down in the chair, saying hello to the young intern who is there to get a Check in the box for breast cancer check up on his chart, then running off for the next box to get a Check.
Focus. Breath in. Breath out. Birgitta tells me everything looks good. Really? Yes. The labs. The mammogram. The scint. Can I see? And I am looking at my skeleton on Birgitta’s screen and I can tell it is okay. I have been in this room watching a big black spot in my hip once (more about that some other time), so I know the difference. The dense parts are where there should be and bilateral. I am well. Big sigh. I am cancer free. One more time. Thank you Birgitta, and we hug and will see each other in a year again.
Maria P is relieved too, to hear the good news, more hugs. It’s still afternoon and she asks me if there is something I want to do. I am so used to everyone helping me out being in a hurry taking me home as fast as possible, so at first I can’t even think of something fun to do. And I can’t walk. But maybe one more fika?
And then I am treated with something lovely! I haven’t yet been in the new inside square on the back yard of the Grand Hotel (Stora hotellet) facing Väven, the building for cultural arts that’s about to get finished any month now. Kulturbageriet (the Cultural Bakery) is the place for the second fika of the day, and I am so happy that I get to wrap up the day and celebrate in this place that has happened while I’ve been stuck on my couch. And there are people to say hello to and I get to see new and familiar faces and I have a weird feeling of temporarily peaking out from the bubble where I am spending my life.
Back on the couch in the evening I am happy. Most of all because I am cancer free. But also because I could do the day without a wheel chair. It wasn’t easy, but I did the little walking I had to do, supported by Maria. I saw two old friends, I had a lunch and two fika, and I got to experience the current talk of the town. And I actually did have a full day of fun thanks to Maria P, for which I am forever grateful.
I felt a surge of energy. And I am thinking that it’s kind of absurd that a day at the hospital finding out if I have cancer or not is a shot of energy. And I don’t know if to cry or laugh about it. But it’s mostly sad. Cause, the thing is, in my stranded couch life there is so little input from outside, a day at the Cancer Center makes me feel like I have been out in the world.
The days and weeks after one of my two worst days of the year usually bring euphoria. Not this year. I am grateful of course, truly, but sad. I am a survivor, as they say in the U.S. I got a second chance to live. And I know exactly what I would like to do with that life. What I would like my life to be. But a stupid state of complicated pain condition involving mechanics, muscles and nervous system is keeping me trapped and tied down while the years are passing. While the life I again was given is passing.But. Yesterday I was taking a fragile few step stroll on my front yard in the spring sun while Trouble 2 was putting the snow shovels away for the year. And pain wise I have had the best weekend in a very long time. Maybe?