This coming Tuesday is my birthday. Many people my age and older dread their birthdays, lamenting the fact that bits of them are wrinkling, other bits are sagging, and a Saturday night is more Netflixy and less clubby. Frankly, I’m thrilled to be seeing another birthday. I’m 36 now–15 months post-diagnosis; 15 months into my 24 month prognosis. Over this past year, I’ve set mini-goals for myself: get through each round of chemo, see Ramona turn 7, make it back to school before winter break, get rid of that damn spot on my liver, throw Solly a birthday party, be present for 8th grade graduation, turn 36. I achieved all these goals, one by one, while never planning too far into the future, never allowing myself to think of things like future graduations, weddings, and grandkids (except during the darkest hours of the night, when such thoughts creep uninvited into my brain). But guess what, stupid fucking two-year prognosis? Imma kick your impersonal, inaccurate, severely limited ass.
I received the best possible news today. I wasn’t expecting it because a) it was Saturday and b) good news isn’t what I’ve come to expect. My doctor ordered a pre-chemo PET scan to get the lay of the land and check on things post-op. I always experience various levels of scanxiety, and this time around was no exception. I’ve been off of chemo since early February, so I was fully expecting a tumor or two to have popped up in the mean time. I hoped for the best, of course, but expected the worst.
I received an email from my oncologist several hours after the scan. “PET looks awesome” was the subject. I opened the email, heart pounding. “Hi Jenessa,” it read. “I’ll paste the results below for you to read. NO sign of cancer!”
My first reaction was to have no reaction at all. I continued playing Go Fish with the kids, slowly absorbing Dr. Le’s words. Then I retreated to my room and read the PET report slowly and thoroughly. Sure enough, there in black and white. “No evidence to suggest residual tumor or distant metastases.” I had achieved the elusive, near-mythical status of NED–no evidence of disease.
As I began to share the news with loved ones, all of whom responded with elation, I slowly allowed myself to feel joy and, above all, relief. No evidence of disease. In 15 months, I went from too much disease to operate, to operable, to early recurrence, to no evidence of disease. 15 months ago, I sat in my oncologist’s office listening in quiet despair as he told me that I would likely never achieve NED. Now, thanks to him and my surgeon, I get a little respite, a moment in the shade.
NED is not cured. It is not even remission. I will still be on chemo in one form or another for life. But right now, in this moment and very likely the next and the next, my body is mine alone. I can breathe a little easier, sleep a little sounder, and walk a little lighter. I can allow myself to think about the future, to plan more than a few weeks ahead.
With whatever combination of highly skilled care, the right medications, and good luck, I have kicked cancer’s ass. No matter how temporarily, I am currently NED, and this is good.