9/9/09 was the date of my ninth treatment. Supposedly, the number "9" carries with it a lot of good luck, something I'm certainly not turning down these days. A quick Wikipedia search shows the supposed power of this number and I will believe it, because I want to.
For better or worse, treatments are becoming old hat. It's not something that you think you will ever get used to, but after doing anything nine times I guess you get to know the drill. I can rattle off my pre-meds, the order of the drugs, alert the nurse when I see the saline bag running low so that she can switch it before having to clear out the tubes. I know what the different beep alerts mean. There's no sound in my life more rewarding right now than the high-pitched alert when the final bag of saline is dripped and I can be removed from my port-a-cath. I'll forever equate that noise with a sense of freedom. I can follow the rhythms of the IV bag rotations from hook to tube to drip. In fact, the IV machine reset itself after I unplugged it from the wall for one of many jaunts to the bathroom and rather than call for the nurse, I just took it upon myself to punch through the prompts to reset the thing. No longer is the IV pole and pump a source of intimidation, but now just a familiar part of the process. Maybe by the 12th treatment I'll be running the show myself.
Craig was my escort this time around as my mom was on a well-deserved vacation at the Cape. Always curious, he asks lots of questions about every step in the process, why some needles work certain ways, why some meds are given different ways --- certainly a forever student and the perfect teacher. He's also always up for a game which I love about him so we played "Set" and played around online as we passed the nearly five hours together. The cancer center was hopping so I didn't get my usual private room. That meant hearing about other patients' detest for salt or newly acquired tastes for spicy food, their bathroom habits, their grandkids and fatigue ... how they're so jealous of how I can look good without hair because I have such a young face. Ah, the joys of being the odd man out - does anyone think that it's kind of strange to be jealous of a 27-year-old with cancer? Yes, I'm just so happy that I can go through this now before I have wrinkles because that would just be the worst thing ever ... . Luckily, with Craig there I didn't feel forced into conversation and could still create the laid-back, zen atmosphere that I shoot for during treatments. No serious talk or drama allowed - no room for the negative. However, t-shirts that say "Chemo Day" with an angry monster that looks exactly like how I feel on those days is most definitely allowed. Shooting the shit about my woes just really doesn't do it for me. But, if anything, listening to how others handle things helps me keep perspective.
We had a good, long visit with Dr. Dailey again rejoicing over the positive PET-CT Scan results. I gushed with thanks but he just said, "Thank you. You're making me look good." I do what I can I guess. He remarked at how dramatic the results really are noting that my first PET-CT Scan which led to my stage 4b diagnosis was aglow with cancer activity all throughout my body - now, not a sparkle.
Craig and I asked a lot of questions: Where do the cancer cells go? What will the chemo be killing now? When will I feel normal again? What are the chances of relapse?
Well, the cancer cells become defunct and absorbed back into my body's tissues. It is always recommended to push through the full chemo regimen to be sure to kill any residual, microscopic cancer cells that may have survived. I should start to feel my strength coming back 2-3 months after my last chemo treatment, but it could take up to a year to really feel like my previous self. The chance of relapse is higher in the first 2-3 years after being in remission - if I can make it through these next few years without a trace of new cancer then the chances of me ever again facing this are much decreased. But yes, it is safe to say that I am now in REMISSION.
I'm still not fully able to wrap my brain around this statement and am not quite comfortable in saying it because I still have much more to go in this journey. It's hard to grasp that I actually beat this. The wonders of medicine are amazing to me and I am so grateful to the medical community, but I'm also careful to take pride in what I did to complement that. There are times for being humble but this is not one of them. I am damn proud of all the hard work that I have put in (and will continue to put in) to beat this. I know that I survived this so well because my body was strong to start with and because I have always taken good care of myself - these past few months I just ramped it up into an even higher gear and I will never let that go. Having cancer makes you realize how fragile and powerful the human body is and makes you aware of the very real fact that you only get one of them to play around in for your 100 years or so on Earth. I'm not ashamed to say that I'm pretty impressed by the one I've got.
This body's got just three more treatments to go. Three more whops of ABVD and all of its ramifications. I've been warned that these last few may in fact be the hardest as there'll be more healthy cells being killed off without the existence of the cancer cells, but I know I can take it now that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.