Background, foreground and good news.
The insidious thing about cancer is that it plays with your mind. You find it, then you treat it, and it lets you think you’ve won. At least for a while. But here’s the rub, it hangs around in the background of your conciousness, moving into the foreground, and then receding again, and then when you are approaching your follow up appointments with your doctors, it moves into the foreground again, and with it comes the dark clouds of uncertainty and fear. Those clouds only being dispersed by the magic words from your doctor, “No evidence of persistent cancer following treatment,” followed by cancer, once again, receding into the background.
So, here we are now, Joanie’s radiation treatment is completed with surprisingly few side affects, and she is happily back home, back at her job, and we are trying to restore a degree of normalcy to our lives.
For Joanie, cancer is in the background now. She has returned to the Schafer Volunteer Committee and gotten involved in the campaign again with all of the enthusiasm she had before the forced hiatus of the past two months. Getting Ed re-elected governor had once again become her focus, and she went at it with gusto.
We had resumed the tradition of our long Saturday lunches where we would go the the Ground Round in Bismarck for wine and appetizers while we would “talk of many things,” including our dreams, and where we were going. Those lazy Saturday afternoons were some of the best days for us, and it was good to have them back. It would be just the two of us, and as I think about those days, even now, it makes me smile and realize how wonderful those afternoons were, and how much they meant to both of us.
We also resumed our quiet Sunday mornings with the paper and the Target ad for Joanie, along with bagels, bacon and cream cheese and early afternoon naps. After a week or two, it was as if nothing had happened. She was not one to wear her disease on her sleeve, and anyone meeting her for the first time would never know what she’d been through or what she was dealing with.
Joanie, then, was one of the most centered people I knew, and I don’t think she even knew that she was, or that some philosopher or other had written about the importance of being centered in the now. If you would have told her about that, she would have looked at you as if you were strange. She knew it without knowing that she knew it. For her today was important, and she never dwelled on yesterday, which for her meant not thinking about cancer. As far as she was concerned that was behind her. If there was any worrying to be done about it, she would leave that to me. I don’t know what she would tell her friends at work, or at coffee, but we never talked about “what if?”
Her first follow up appointments with Dr. Carson and Dr. Dusenbery were scheduled for the August 30th, a Friday, about six weeks from the end of her radiation treatment. While cancer had been in the background of her conciousness for the better part of that time, about three days before we were scheduled to leave for Minneapolis, her demeanor would change, at least at home with me.
She would become more subdued, and the closer we came to the day of leaving, more short with me about little things. Her Irish temper could be set off at something insignifcant, but it would subside in a moment as well. Little things would frustrate her, and she would spend more time on the couch, with Muffin on her lap and a book at hand. I learned to just listen and watch, and not to try and persuade her to feel something different from that which she was feeling. What she was doing was dealing with the cancer that had forced itself into the foreground of her life again, and she was coping with it in her own way.
We would leave for Minneapolis the day before her appointments, and the ritual was the same as before. Joanie would delay departure by a slow and deliberate morning of a long shower, a long decision on what to pack, fussing about what else she would take, and finally shaking the bag of kitty treats, which brought Muffin and Peaches running. Then it was out the door and heading east on I-94 toward the next day’s meetings with her doctors.
Friday arrives and we go to see her doctors. Both Dr. Dusenbery and Dr. Carson did exams. Both exams were positive, and Carson said, “There is no evidence of persistent invasive squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix.” The tension of the past few days, along with the dark clouds of uncertainty and fear, vanished in an instant with those words. We stopped at the lab next to Carson’s office so they could take some blood for a lab work up, and headed directly for Sally’s.
The walk to Sally’s was an easy one. Joanie and I were smiling and happy, and bordered on being positively giddy, that this follow up had given us reason for celebration, and something positive she could share with her family. We ordered wine, took a deep breath and toasted the day. She made a couple of calls to her sister and brother, and then we went to Ginny and Ed’s for the evening. She had a chance to see her three legged friend Piper, who had helped her make it through the six weeks of radiation, and he was glad to see her too. It was a grand evening.
We left for Bismarck the next day, and after a stop in St. Cloud at my sister Joni’s home, to tell her of the good news, we sailed the rest of the way to our house with nothing but the road and a future ahead of us. Cancer was once again receding to the background. It was a good trip.