We Make Our Own Parades

When I embarked on this cancer journey a year and 7 months ago, I wrote about the terror of standing on a cliff, looking down and not being able to see what was at the bottom of the canyon.  I knew I had to get down but I wasn’t quite sure how I would do it or what obstacles I would encounter along the way.  Like any experienced hiker knows, the only way down is to start walking, so that’s what I did, taking each obstacle as it came into view on my path –surgery, chemo, heart problems, my children’s reactions, exhaustion, doctors appointments and more surgery– never looking too far forward, always concentrating on the issue at hand. One foot in front of the other, each step getting me slightly closer to the end.

Well, I am happy to report that as of this week, I have finally reach the bottom of the gorge. Two days ago my oncologist walked into her office where I sat waiting for my chemo treatment and announced, “Bet you never thought you’d see this day !”

I was completely caught off guard. “Huh? What? That’s it?  Are you sure?”

Dr. Anderson left the office to double check that her numbers were correct and came back to confirm that yes indeed this would be my very last chemo treatment. All right then.  Bring it on.

As I sat in the leather lounge chair receiving what would be my last drops of Herceptin through my port, I was filled with a mix of emotions — a combination of relief and let down.  I had had no time to prepare for this momentous occasion.  I was robbed of the 3 weeks of anticipatory excitement-building that often is the best part of any occasion.  The Senior Prom is OK, but the lead up is what is really great–buying the dress, getting a tan. Vacations? Having them to look forward to is the key. Looking forward to something is always way better than the actual event.  To make matters worse, my favorite oncology nurse, Heidi, who had been with me since the beginning, was on vacation, so a virtual stranger hooked me up to my last infusion.  She was nice — but she didn’t know me like Heidi knew me. 

So when the IV line beeped, signifying my bag of medicine was empty,and my port was de-accessed, I headed for the elevator, said goodbye like any other day and walked through the garage to my car. I left that building that I had visited every 3 weeks– sometimes more often than that even– for the last year and a half. I left that building, the halls of which almost 2 years ago signified a beacon of hope in an otherwise bleak forecast to my future — I left, looking for  a parade in my honor.  Of course, there was no parade; just the garage attendant who took my money and stamped my ticket like he had every other day.  I drove home.

The next day, amid a deluge of rain, I drove back to the Hospital District.  This time I was headed over to the Brigham for another milestone in this crazy cancer hike — the final mile. I was scheduled for my first mammogram since being diagnosed with Stage 2 Her 2 neu/er/pr positive Breast Cancer. The rain served a perfect distraction for my drive down route 93.  I needed to concentrate so as not to hydroplane –being nervous about my mammogram was not an option.

The great thing about having had a mastectomy is that a mamogram takes half as long.  They only need to squash one side into a virtual breast pancake and x-ray the insides.  The other side — my silicone fake breast is spared the embarrassment and pain.  Not that the cancer can’t form around the implant, it’s just that the machine cannot detect it.  That’s where Dr. Christian comes in.

It was wonderful to see my surgeon, Dr. Christian again.  He  bounded into the exam room with my mammogram results in hand, ” Terrific news,” he said, his Johnny-Carson eyes twinkling. Dr. Christian uses words like ‘terrific’ and ‘swell’ all the time without it sounding goofy and he makes me want to use those words too. 

“You look terrific,” he said.

“I feel terrific,” I say, letting the word roll off my tongue like Tony the Tiger.

It was all good news.  After he examined me, he gave me a clean bill of health for a whole year and sent me on my way.  Again, I looked for the parade as I walked to the garage attendant, paid my bill and headed for my car.  It was when I sat in the driver’s seat that it hit me — this journey is over.  Seriously over.  And the tears came as hard as the rain outside.  The tears came in waves that wouldn’t stop. They were tears of overwhelming relief that I had come through this very scary thing —  I had survived, I had kicked it’s ass. I realized sitting in my car that I had barely cried throughout this battle.  Only a little when I was first diagnosed but hardly at all.  I was too busy concentrating on each step of the journey to let myself feel what was happening.  I was too afraid that if I had fallen apart at any time during my treatment that I would not be strong enough to see it through to the end.  I needed all my strength to fight.  But there, in my car, with it all behind me, I could cry.  And cry I did.

When I got home I called some friends to go out for drinks.  I brought them to the bar I now work at.  The place where I was still not sure if anyone liked me. We ordered martinis and everyone who worked there came over and congratulated me.  The bartender Jim said, “Hey Fran, is this your parade?” as I sat at the bar with my girlfriends.

“Yup, it is, ” I said, “No sense waiting for someone to throw a parade in your honor, might as well make your own.”

And so I did.

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About francesbarrie

Cancer survivor,mom,triathlete,writer,jewelry maker, baker. Staying happy and healthy,living life and enjoying it one moment at a time.
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4 Responses to We Make Our Own Parades

  1. Karen says:

    Darling, this hit me hard. I remember like it was yesteday how disappointed I was that my radiation treatments were over because I had met some fabulous nurses and people during those 6 weeks and I was afraid it wasn’t really over – and we were all fine during the treatments. What was going to happen to George, who had a brain tumor, if I didn’t check in on him each day? What was going to happen to Karen, the italian Karen that is, if I didn’t check on her each day? And what was I going to do with myself, without having George and Karen checking on me each and every day? My husband wasn’t going to check in on me, he figured I had it covered because I made it seem like “no big deal” so they could survive without any changes in our “normal” schedule. I had lost some weight because I made myself walk the mile each way to the hospital from my office for the treatments during lunch, simply because I was determined to not let it interfere with work, and home, and looked at it like it was normal to be going there each and every day. I am crying for you right now. . . not in sadness, but in joy and remembering how wonderful I felt after about a week when I realized I could actually each my lunch with my workmates, rather than skip out in a rush to see my radiation friends. Sadly, I gained the weight back (used to blame it on large kidneys, now I blame it on my large liver instead); George passed away a year later; and italian Karen is still working away and enjoying life, as we all should. Thank you for including us in this journey and I can’t wait to read about the next chapter. . . maybe I will start walking a mile during lunch again if it ever stops raining. Thanks for sharing Fran and CONGRATULATIONS!!!!

  2. Fran,

    I haven’t been “here” in a while, so I’m amused to find that I arrived just hours after you posted this. It’s beautiful, wonderful, thrilling, and celebratory. Congratulations a thousand times over.

    Funny, I’ve always thought of the PMC as a parade in which people line up and yell “You’re the best!,” “Thank you!” and other bewildering, wonderful exhortations.

    I so hope to find you on the road on August 1st, or at lunch, or at Bourne, or sitting on the ice on August 2nd, or at the Provincetown Inn. If my timing’s as good then as it was today, I’ll find you at the first possible moment. I’m giddy at the prospect of meeting you — your shares inspire me, so you’re a hero! Thank you!

    John

  3. Judi says:

    That is fabulous news. I’m so so thrilled for you my dear. I could see it hitting you all at once, I’m sure the emotions just go crazy. We need to chat one of these days.

    Congratulations doll, best news I’ve heard in a while.

    Love – Judi

  4. Summer says:

    Aunt Franny,

    Congratulations on making it!!! The hurdles you have overcome are amazing and heroic.
    I do hope the let down of not going back is short lived and you are able to go and visit your friends because you want to not because you have to.

    Good luck in the PMC. I will be rooting for you and everyone else. My best friends husband will be riding for the third straight year and her father unfortunatly is still batteling cancer and won’t be able to ride. He will be at the finish line cherring you all on. He just underwent a immune system transplant and seems to be doing well.
    My heart and wishes go out to you, your friends and everyone else who has suffered.

    Love,
    Summer

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