I had the first of the five-year hurdles last week: I saw my dentist. Me and my surgical deficit, we went in to the same office and sat in the same chair, but with a different hygienist, one who didn't once have twins kicking me in the face while she worked on my teeth. I sat and looked up at the same goddamned pine trees that I saw when they said they thought I might have cancer, and I waited for a verdict.
Everything is fine, they said. My teeth and gums are really healthy. I need to floss more. There is no evidence of disease.
For anybody else, that would be a milestone, a real one. For me, it's kind of a milestone. It's a milestone that everybody else has created, not knowing that the sort of tumor I had shows up again, usually in a nastier form, after twenty years.
Those of you late to the game should know: five years ago, at forty, I had half my hard palate and all of my soft palate removed due to something called polymorphous adenocarcinoma. Mine was low-grade, leading to the initialism PLGA, and try searching *that* on Google. You'll end up knowing more about golf than you ever wanted to.
When I was diagnosed, the article on Wikipedia was a stub. You could've edited it to add what you knew to help others. There was one paragraph in one textbook about it.
ANYWAY. After a hellish year that you can read about by clicking on the 2010 and 2011 archives, I had a prosthetic that was better than my original mouth. I had no need for nightlights, since I had had enough rads to glow in the dark. I was well-versed in CTs and PETs and MRIs, with and without contrast, and with the recovery process that goes with having bone saws in your head.
In October, I will be officially five years out. The trouble is that five years means, simultaneously, nothing and everything.
In October, it'll be five years since I stood at my kitchen sink and looked out the back window and prayed and wished that I could spend more time gardening.
I haven't spent any more time gardening.
In October, it'll be five years since I called The Brother In Beer with the news that my lump was malignant. He spent the next couple of nights wondering what the hell he was doing so far away.
We're together now, and he's The Boyfiend, but I haven't been as present as I should've been.
In October, it'll be five years since Nikki and Lara got really sick, not just big-surgery-and-plastic-shit sick, and had to lose their hair and get irradiated. I never had to do any of that. They were solid as rocks, the both of them, when what I was going through was so much small potatoes.
The Boyfiend's father is celebrating his five-year anniversary too, celebrating freedom from a much nastier type of cancer that meant a G-tube and head-and-neck radiation and all the things that go along with that.
Here's the breakdown:
I didn't have a really nasty cancer.
The cancer I did have has a recurrance period way beyond what most people think about. Anything can happen in twenty years, and most things do.
Max, the dog who kept me company when I couldn't talk at all, is dead. Mongo is here now. The cat-boys were barely out of kittenhood then, and are now adult cats. One is huge and muscular, the other is sleek and flexible. They'll all be dead by the time I have a real clear checkup. Hell, the guy who did my surgery will have retired by then.
Things have moved on, except they haven't, really.
I realized today that I've internalized this bullshit anniversary. Mostly, I think, because twenty years is too much to think about. If I can make it five years, then maybe I can make it seven, or nine, and eventually forget about what happened, except that I'll still have that Thing I have to put in my mouth to talk. Maybe I can reconcile myself to another fifteen years of wondering if the tumor's come back.
If I think about it as a whole, as in "I have to fear every checkup for the next fifteen years," then I want to fling myself out a window.
I realized today that I've spent the last five years putting things off, vamping 'till ready, because I believe in this five-year mark that means nothing. And now I wonder if I'm going to keep putting shit off for another fifteen years. I hope not.
Wouldn't it be fucking hilarious if my CT or MR shows something growing on a lung? Or my intestines, or liver, or meninges? It would certainly give me something to do, but I'm not sure I'd be grateful.
What do you say when you have nothing to be afraid of, yet you're still afraid?
I never realized until now how much having most of the inside of my head exposed to air had affected me. I'm ashamed: it shouldn't be such a big fucking deal. Lara has gone out and run marathons, for God's sake, and I've just sat here paralyzed, navel-gazing.
Despite all of that, I'm still afraid. I have no reason to be, but I am.