I practically skipped into the doctor’s office yesterday. Why wouldn’t I? I felt great, I was getting help with my paper-work, and I am within spitting distance of my last chemo.
Cindy, Dr. Kolesky’s administrative assistant, greeted me with a warm smile at her registration window. Only seconds later, she was up on her feet and coming around the corner to welcome me with a big hug. “You look fantastic, Stacey!” she said. She and I had known each other many years ago in high school. Every time I came to the doctor’s office since Dr. Taylor and his staff retired, she and I reminisced about our Eastview days and the people who filled them.
“Do you remember … ” our conversations would begin. We both came to the conclusion that 30 years does tend to wreak havoc on the memory banks. There were, however, a few names here and there that rang a bell for both of us and we would tell stories of “catch-up” and share what we knew of these few individuals.
How wonderful it was to walk into a doctor’s office and feel “at home”. No matter what the reason one has to frequent the doctor, it is always disconcerting to be there. Who knows what “bad” news he/she will have for you. Especially, once you have been detected with cancer. What news will be revealed in those mysterious notes that were scribed from your last examination? Cancer tends to create a bit of paranoia in a person.
In short order, I was invited to wait in one of Kolesky’s examination rooms. The room, as it turned out, was quite familiar to me. Kolesky had taken over Dr. Taylor’s practice several years ago. My Mom was Taylor’s nurse for many, many years. In fact, my Mom used to brag that since Taylor was a puppy when he first began his practice, it was she who had trained him. I had been in that very examination room often during my childhood – as I waited for Mom to get off work. When Mom was older, I would take her to her appointments with Taylor and we would wait together in this very room. In the beginning of my own visits, it was difficult to be in that room as there were so many memories – both good and bad. As time passed, however, it became easier – as did the act of remembering my Mom. I still missed her terribly. I still wished she were with me. If I closed my eyes while sitting in that room, I could almost imagine her sitting with me – with her white nursing cap on. She would be looking at me with her stunning blue eyes and offering me her reassurances that everything would be okay. Oh, if those walls could talk!
“Hello, Stacey!” Dr. Kolesky greeted me with a smile as he removed my file from the holder on the door. “How are you?”
“Dr. Kolesky,” I replied, “I am fantastic!”
He smiled at me and moved into the room to begin the business of “paper-work”.
“You look great. Now, Stacey, I have a few questions that I need to ask you for this report.” Dr. Kolesky was a pleasant, professional, and very proficient man. (Three p’s in a pod?) He was apt to engage in some banter, but not enough that would cause his other patients to have to wait. I felt he felt that would be bad. He quickly turned to the last report that was written to summarize my condition and read it aloud to me. “The patient is a 51 – year old woman… ” the report began. It always shocked me to hear that I was that woman in the report. I thought I was someone much younger. He carried on… “responded well to chemo” and “will be switched to….” (what did he say – check ups?) “troubles with Neulasta”, and so on. Quickly, the report was completed.
Suddenly, I realized that I had not heard what I wanted to hear – what was my prognosis?
“Dr. Kolesky, I feel great! Really, I do. I have more energy now than I did last July.”
“Last July, you were full of cancer. It side-swiped you, didn’t it?”
“Yes. I really had no idea. I just had a lot of shoulder pain. So, now that I am cancer-free…” I began.
“Stacey. You are figuratively speaking, cancer – free. Technically, and you need to remember this, you are in remission.”
Remission. I had heard the word before. I knew what it was. I had even uttered that word. But never, never had I applied it to myself. The word took the wind out of my sails. I sat back in my chair, sort of stunned. Remission. That is supposed to be a good thing. And it is a good thing. I’ve known people to be in remission for 20 years or more. But, I’ve also known people who have been in remission for many years less. Once again, I found myself on the tight-rope of hope.
“So, what does that mean, Dr. Kolesky, in terms of me returning to work. When should I return?”
“Stacey – I can’t say. It is up to you. Everyone is different. The chemo is hard on the body. It will take you a while to recover, but I cannot tell you how long that will be. We can arrange a slow return – at a pace that works for you. If you find it is too much, we can scale it back again.”
I found myself, once again, facing my own mortality and the question of what I want to do with the life I have remaining. Just when I thought I could welcome my old routine again, I was thrown into chaos. Remission. The cancer can come back.
I need to pay attention. I need to live. Good grief, how quickly the tides can turn. One minute I feel immortal and the next … not so much. That’s not a bad thing. It forces me to thank God for every day I am alive. It forces me to pay attention to my family and to enjoy them. Life is about making memories and how can memories be made when you are not paying attention? I want to make memories! I want to make memories while I can.
There is an expiration date on all of us. I know that. It’s just that it seems I am quite aware that there IS an expiration date on me. I have no idea when – I am optimistic enough to feel that it is not for a long while, yet.
“Dr. Kolesky,” I concluded at the end of my appointment. “I just want to thank-you for your care. It was you who made the first diagnosis. You were the one who discovered there was a problem and set the repair in motion. I want to thank-you for that.”
“You are welcome, Stacey.” was all he said and with a smile, he moved on to his next patient.
It was difficult to explain to my husband, Kevin exactly what had happened to me that day in Kolesky’s office. There were tears. I was upset. I was mad at myself for being upset. I was disappointed in myself that I was not more positive and appreciative. Kevin listened to try to understand me. He was kind and he was patient. In the end, I think Kevin coined it best when he suggested that what the doctor had done was to hold up a mirror to the reality I faced. I was in remission. Sometimes it is difficult to look in the mirror, but it is never a bad thing. It was the truth – and it is always better to face the truth.
That was it. Kolesky had held up a mirror on remission. It was real. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is good health. It is a perspective. Do I choose to see the beauty in remission – or the beast? It is up to me. Attitude is all. When I look in that mirror, I want to see the beauty!