Cancer #4: Partial Remission!

by 11:00 PM 1 comments
I wasn't feeling particularly optimistic prior to this last round of testing. I was tired and sick with a cold, plus expecting another painful procedure. So that my state of mind might be reflected by my appearance, I wore gray fleece pants and a black sweatshirt to the doctor's office. No makeup, moccasins for shoes, a half-hearted pony tail. This was a sartorial cry for help as much as it was a decision driven by a desire for comfort. Hunched over on the couch in the waiting room, I was projecting a message: 'I hate everything, do your worst, I don't care.'

The procedure wasn't actually as bad as I thought it would be, thanks to a local anesthetic. It wasn't until the car ride home that I started to feel the pain. Nothing terrible, but bad enough when added to my cold and an impending sense of doom to keep me home from work. I spent the day in bed, mostly sleeping but also reading and watching old Simpsons episodes.

The next day, I was back at work. The day after, I got a call from the doctor's office while I was with a student. I didn't pick up, or even rush to listen to the message, because the doctor said results would take a week. I thought they were calling about an insurance question, so I checked my voicemail number after work expecting a billing headache. I was shocked and surprised to hear the message that I was in partial remission!

Partial remission, in this case, means that I still have pre-cancerous cells, but the cancerous cells are gone. Because the pre-cancerous cells can turn into cancer again very easily, I need to continue to be on my best behavior health-wise, and to go in for pap smears every six months instead of every three years. The pre-cancerous cells could also go away with time, hopefully they will. For now, though, I'm free to live as is.

At first, when I got this news, my feeling was the same as when I get bad news. I went right to the organizational element: who needs to be notified, and in what order should I notify people? On the phone I kept saying "Yes, I'm so happy," but it felt like when you're telling someone you don't know that you're sorry for their loss. It seemed vaguely true in the abstract, but I couldn't quite summon the feeling to match my words. I think part of this was that I spent most of the time with cancer mis-placing my feelings. I was really upset about the weather, ISIS, the rising costs of higher education, etc. So when I first got the news, my reaction was: okay, but there's still too much traffic at this time of day! The next day was more of the same. In fact, it wasn't until Friday when I was driving to Bar Method that everything changed.

I was driving down a familiar street in Santa Clara, but suddenly everything was different. I could feel the sun on my arms and face streaming through the car window. The singer on the radio wasn't wistful, he was hopeful and bittersweet. And suddenly I could see all of the delicate leaves on the trees arching over the houses that I was passing by.

That might sound cheesy, but it's literally what happened. I was gloomy one minute, and absolutely overcome with happiness the next. It had finally hit home that I am back to normal.

A few people asked me if I learned anything from this experience. I think that the most valuable take-away for me was that when you are sick and scared, everything matters more. Criticism was harder to take, but on the other hand, gestures of love and friendship meant so much. To everyone who wrote to me, made me soup, sent me flowers or cat stickers, called me, invited me out, or stayed with me, I want to say thank you! I am so lucky to be surrounded by such wonderful people, and I only hope that I can pay it forward. The next person that I know who gets sick is going to get soooo much attention from me, because I have a lot to give back.

Some people I talked to asked me how I think that I beat it. I followed a lot of advice on hippy-dippy 'healing foods' websites, including eating tons of garlic, cruciferous vegetables, and an antioxidant-rich smoothie every day. I guess there's no way to know if it worked or not, but the important thing is that it didn't not work! Not exactly scientific, but I'm just a case study. I know that there is research suggesting that having a positive attitude can help combat illness, and I tried to keep it together, but I'm not sure that I did a great job in that area. For every time I thought, 'you know what, I still have a lot to be grateful for!' there was a time I was sobbing loudly in an unconventional setting for such displays. Basically, I was a mess. However, if there's a healing effect of being a mess, I certainly took full advantage of it.

And here comes the advice: 1. If you're a woman, get your pap smears, and if the results are abnormal, go back in. Thirty percent of women don't follow up after abnormal results, which is a statistic that I don't fully understand. It's really important to take care of these cells within a reasonable time frame. If you're a man, remind the women in your life to get it done. It's not fun, but it needs to happen. 2. If you get sick, don't panic and quit everything until you're aware of the situation. I am so glad that I didn't say 'well I have cancer better drop out of school!' or whatever. That decision would have out-lasted this illness.

I am alive. I am well. I am grateful. I am ready to get back to business as usual!

Simple pleasures, like free office chairs from the neighbor's porch. Life can be good!

Marina Gafni

Marina Gafni is a 28-year-old speech pathology student. She lives with her husband in San Jose, CA.

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