Eggs Benedict, Champagne and Strawberries.
The news we got at the August follow up to the radiation, was enough for both of us to feel good about the future, and life did return to normal. Joanie went back to work with a new enthusiasm, and we started to believe that this thing was going to fade into the past.
Another follow up, in November gave us hope again, since every time a clinic appointment was pending, there was still a little uncertainty about what they would find, and that weighed on her, despite what she might have said to anyone else. I knew it did.
She met with both Dr. Carson and Dr. Dusenbery, and Katie’s notes said, “Ms. Wigen returns today approximately five months after completing her radiation therapy. She is doing very well. Her candidate won the campaign and this obviously good news for her. She has been working 12 hour days. She does have some fatigue which is quite understandable.” She went on to say, “A CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis today was unremarkable without any evidence of disease.”
The tumor marker was normal, and in Dr. Carson’s words after her exam, there was, “no evidence of persistent cancer following radiotherapy.” Then it was off to Sally’s. That was another good trip to the cities, and it set the stage for a happy Thanksgiving. The bonus for Joanie was that she didn’t have to come back for three months.
The holiday season of 1996 was one that she pursued with gusto. We both enjoyed the Christmas holidays, but this year was something special. Our house was always decorated from stem to stern inside, and that year she pulled out all the stops. The tree secured, we were still doing live trees then, it would be my job to put on lights, and for her there were never enough. She would then spend time placing the hundreds of decorations she had accrued over her life, some dating back to her grandmother, on the tree, and fires would be lit in the fireplace when the holidays were in full swing, or anytime we just wanted to have one. There was so much stuff on our walls and sitting on any open space, that I was reminded of what my sister Jane’s kids said after seeing her Christmas decorations when they said, “It looks like Santa threw up.” Things were good, and as we looked ahead to the new year, we did so with confidence.
On Christmas morning that year, we talked about what a year it had been for her, and for the first time she admitted to me how scared she had been that day in May in Dr. Bury’s office, but after what she had been through in the following months, even given the disappointments, she was less afraid now. All seemed normal to me, and quite healthy. I had always told her she was a lot stronger than she thought she was, and the last seven months had proved that, if not to her, to me.
A new year was upon us before we knew it, and with it came a schedule of appointments with her doctors in Minneapolis. Each one accompanied with the same kind of uncertainty that came with them every time.
The first one was in February, both Dr. Carson and Dr. Dusenbery gave her the same news, “no evidence of disease,” followed by us going to Sally’s for our celebratory wine.
She was scheduled to return in three months, however we were notified after we got home that the blood work showed a elevation in the tumor marker, and Carson wanted to see her again in early March for a CT scan and physical exam. This news was unwelcome, but we were told by Carson that it is not unusual for this number to rise and fall, but they also wanted to keep a close eye on her.
This put us back on the emotional roller coaster that comes with cancer and its treatment, and as we prepared to leave Bismarck for the March appointment, her routine of slowing everything down resurfaced. Though she never said anything to me, I knew she was worried about this trip. It hadn’t been a year yet, and now uncertainty had reared its ugly head again.
Once at the clinic, she had yet another abdominal CT scan and a pelvic scan. The good news now was there was no evidence of disease, and she didn’t have to come back for three months. The tumor marker had also returned to just a point over what they called “normal.” So, it was off to Sally’s once again, breathing great sighs of relief that the roller coaster had slowed down, at least for the moment.
Easter Sunday that year was March 30th, and in celebration of the day, we started a tradition of eggs benedict, champagne and strawberries. It was a way of not only noting Easter, but of doing something special for the two of us, as well as remembering the good news from her appointment earlier in the month. It was something we did every year after that, and something I still do today, minus the champagne. Another reason we made it special was to remind ourselves that despite how things had gone for her over the past year, we had many good times in between the bouts of uncertainty and fear.
On May 13th, three days after her 47th birthday, and just over a year since she had been diagnosed, the clinic appointment, while anticipated with some dread, was nothing but good news. Carson’s assessment was, once again, “of no evidence of recurrent cancer,” and Katies assessment was, “She is doing well with no evidence of recurrent disease 10 months following completion of radiation therapy.” By now you know we went straight to Sally’s. This time we had two glasses of wine, one for each of the doctors.
For me, knowing the statistics surrounding her disease, I figured it was one year down and four to go before she would be called a survivor. Joanie and I never talked about those numbers, as far as she was concerned she already was. I think she also thought it would be bad luck to keep track of the time like that.
Her next appointment came in September, and Carson’s assessment was again, “that of no evidence of recurrent cancer.” Again we felt good about it, and the roller coaster slowed down. We went to Sally’s and toasted the day’s news, knowing that she didn’t have to come back for another three months.
Her next appointment was in December, and that put us right in the middle of the holiday season. While the news was good, there was a reason they didn’t tell her to come back in three months. Instead, an appointment was made for January 20th for a CT scan and physical exam. This put something of a damper on the holiday season, since we had become used to hearing come back in three months.
The uncertainty that comes from not knowing became our companion once again, and the roller coaster started back up. All of this after we had considered 1997 to be a pretty good year. We now had no idea what the new year would bring.