Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Last Appointment

I finally got around to making my appointment for my annual check-up with Dr. Fischbach--my chemo oncologist--last Wednesday. I expected the usual discussion about how the Arimidex side-effects were going. I would then admit that I'd been forgetting to take the medication lately (for a year truth be told).

That's when he would launch into a speech about what the purpose of the medication is for, why it's so important to take it, blah, blah blah. After getting off his soap box, he would write a prescription so I could begin my Arimidex regime once again. At the end of our appointment, I  would vow to follow his instructions and take those pills faithfully. That's how our annual visit played out for the past four years.

This time it was different. I braced for the awkward moment when I would have to confess that I had pushed those Arimidex pills to the back of the medicine cabinet once again. But instead of getting the usual response, he just kept flipping through the papers in my file and said: "Okay. You won't be needing to take medication anymore. The likelihood of your cancer returning is very low. There's less than a 10 percent chance of it coming back."

I sat there for a good minute to take that news in and finally asked: "Does that mean I don't have to come back here again?" His answer made me happy and sad at the same time. "That is correct. This is the time we say goodbye." He reached out and gave me a long, warm hug and out the door he went. It seemed so final. I felt like I was just pushed out of a nest. I was officially deemed completely cured. My cancer card was revoked--even though I hadn't used it for years.

I felt drawn to the chemo room, so down the hall I went. Nurses Faye and Renee instantly recognized me and gave me big hugs. The room was filled with chemo patients tethered to hanging liquid bags. Most of them were hairless. They all looked exhausted. There wasn't an empty Lazy Boy chair in the house. I stood in the middle of the room, taking it all in, remembering my visits there every two weeks during May and June of 2008.  The basket of comfort blankets were in the same place. Magazines were strewn everywhere. Suddenly my time there seemed like yesterday.

I spontaneously reached out to hug a woman in a pink baseball cap that I had talked to in the waiting room. She was currently battling breast cancer and said she only had two more chemo treatments to go. Then I stepped back and said: "You are in good hands. You are going to be fine. I was where you are five years ago." The woman next to her responded enthusiastically: "And you look fantastic!"

With that, all I could do is turn on my heels and walk out the door. As I made my way to the car, I began crying. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. How could I thank Dr. Fischbach and his staff enough? How could I repay them? They saved my life. That I know for sure.

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