Sunday, September 8, 2013

Ready, Set, Let Go

Last Wednesday as Herceptin flowed into my IV, my Mom and I looked at our calendars. We were curious how many more infusion treatments I will have at Dana-Farber. We remembered that my first chemotherapy and Herceptin infusion had taken place on October 10, 2012. So we knew that the one year course of treatment was almost complete. 

By our estimation, I have two infusions left -- the penultimate one on September 25th and the last-and-final on October 16th. There may be one more, considering the almost two-week delay I experienced after my allergic reaction, but we doubt it, and we do have zero medical degrees between the two of us. Dr. Bunnell, the one who actually knows what he's talking about, will tell us my schedule at my next appointment, although if I really wanted to know now, I could just call him. 

*  *  *

A few months ago, I had a chance to sit down for lunch with a young woman who I will call "Carrie." Carrie had been a patient at Dana-Farber 13 years ago, and while so much of my lunch with her was wonderfully memorable, there's one thing that she said that I will never forget. 

We had got to talking about how much we love Dana-Farber and how much that institution gave to us. We talked about how safe and secure we feel when we're there, which is crazy given that at first, I didn't think any place on Earth could have been scarier. 

Carrie told me that the first few times she visited Dana-Farber for scans after her treatment was complete, she wanted the scans to reveal cancer. Not a lot of cancer, and definitely something that they could fix, she explained. But if they found cancer, I could keep on being treated there, and I would be safer with them watching over me. 

I laughed with Carrie about this, not because I thought she was nuts, but because I so sincerely understood how hard it is to let go of the place and the people that saved your life. 

*  *  *

Teddy and I visited Dana-Farber together today so that we could walk the three-mile route of the Jimmy Fund Walk with other patients and their families. A DJ was blasting great music on Jimmy Fund Way and I enjoyed embarrassing Teddy with my goofy dancing (the goofy part is not necessarily purposeful). He played games along Brookline Avenue while I munched on the popcorn and ice cream that he asked me to hold. When I first walked into the Yawkey Center two Augusts ago, I never could have imagined that one year later I'd be dancing and eating ice cream in the very same place. And I certainly never imaged that my son would be smiling with me there, having successfully thrown beans bags into the holes of a wooden box. 

Today's walk was nothing short of magical. Sure, Teddy didn't want to hold my hand (after all, he is starting kindergarten tomorrow), but he was always keenly aware of where I was and he seemed so proud and satisfied when he asked me a question to which I actually knew the answer (or so he thought). For example, "Who paints the yellow lines on the street?" "Why are there people at Fenway if the Red Sox are in New York?" "Why was I born at the same hospital that you and Daddy were born at?" I had to think on my feet, literally!

Teddy doesn't just like to ask questions; he also likes to tell me a thing or two about a thing or two. So he told me about Fenway Park and about why the Green Line was sometimes above ground and sometimes below ground. He showed me the general direction of "the place where Papa bought his new caw," and he insisted that I take photos of him in front of the Citgo sign. As we walked alongside people who had literally just walked over 24 miles (we had walked one), Teddy informed me that we had walked a weally weally long way. That kid totally cracks me up. 

Speaking of cracking me up, just last week I was cleaning the living room while the kids watched, critiqued, and continued to add to the mess. As I repositioned my healing chair from the horizontal position that the kids often maneuver it into, I scolded them. "Please do not play with this chair because you are going to break it!" 

Teddy had an immediate response.

"Well, Mom, you don't have bweast cancew anymow so we don't even need your chairw." He could see that I certainly wasn't going to argue with that. But he couldn't see that my heart had basically just melted inside.

*  *  *

I know how crazy this may sound, but just like Carrie wasn't embarrassed to admit her truths, I can't be embarrassed to admit mine. 

My truth is that while every fiber in my body wants to be cured, part of me is also afraid of being without the people, the medicine, and the institution that cured me. Part of me is terrified, and maybe even oddly nostalgic, to admit that I no longer need my healing chair even though I so desperately do not want to need my healing chair ever again.  

I was strangely proud to check-in at the registration table today as a current patient of Dana-Farber. But I realize now that mixed in with that pride is a huge amount of comfort. At Dana-Farber, I know that I'm in the very best hands. So maybe it's only natural that I wouldn't want those hands to let me go. 

I recently learned that half of Dana-Farber's work is pure research. I had no idea. I also had no idea that for the past 25 years, thousands of people have walked the Jimmy Fund Walk to raise money for the institution that saved my life -- for the research and the clinical care that I hope and pray has cured my cancer. 

When I check in at the Jimmy Fund Walk next year, I will still be a patient of Dana-Farber. But, if I am lucky, I will be a much more distant patient. While that distance scares me, I realized tonight that it will still allow me to walk every September so that the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber can continue to save lives.

That distance will also not deprive me of my right to wear the pin that I wore as I walked today; one that boasted, "I'm Living Proof." Yes, I am, and so were the children and teenagers, young parents and elderly people that walked alongside me. Even as my patient relationship with Dana-Farber changes, I hope that I always feel pride and comfort in knowing that I'm proof of the success of cutting edge research and world class clinical care. And Teddy, who has already declared that he wants to walk again next year, will always be proof of how important all of that really is.

Getting ready to walk...

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