I saw my oncologist today for my bi-annual visit. It was a very different sort of visit.
My oncologist is an older man - retirement age and as I've mentioned before he's not everyone's cup of tea. He's frank, doesn't mix his words and tells it like it is. While I had cancer he wasn't the kind to pat me on the back and say "There, there, everything will be alright" but he did say on my very first visit "I'll get you through this." And he did.
Today though, as I filled him in with all the details of the past 6 months since I saw him last, the two surgeries and all that went along with that he decided there was no point in doing a physical exam. One breast is basically non existent and the other is still healing from the reduction. So instead, he just decided we should talk.
And he asked me the big question. "How are you doing?" And he asked it with his grandfatherly face. Really caring. And I said most days I was fine but as I said it I could feel myself welling up and as much as I didn't want to I started to cry.
The thing is, I am fine. He asked me about Sean, if he was supportive. He is beyond supportive. He asked me how the kids were. They've been troopers. He commented that he knew I was not the kind to make this whole event a scary thing and the kids learn how to handle all this from how we handle it all. He said he knows I've handled it all so well.
And yet, there I sit in his office blubbering like a fool.
I don't cry very often about this. I felt like an idiot and I kept apologizing and he kept saying, "Don't be sorry, you're human!"
It's just that for three long years I've been dealing with this, with my chin up and my spirits high and for the most part I've been okay but every now and then, especially now, I think about how long and hard this whole thing has been. And it's not over. That's the clincher. It's not over.
My doctor told me as much, it's not over yet - because I still have one more surgery - but he also assured me that he's been doing this a long time (no doubt!) and that as time goes on it will not feel this way anymore. I'll feel more normal again. But in the meantime, if there was anything he could do to let him know.
And that is why, despite his matter of fact-ness when it comes to dealing with the disease I wouldn't trade this doctor for anything and I'm going to be so sad when he retires.
On the way home I thought a lot about my visit. The truth of the matter is, cancer sucks ass. It really does. But to say it doesn't define you or change you is denying the gift it can give you.
Cancer gave me a freedom I never had before and probably never would have had without it. I feel free to live my life. It sounds cliché but when I think to all of the things I have done in the past 3 years that I wouldn't have done had I never been diagnosed. It also gave me the freedom to care less about what others think or say about me. It strengthened my relationships with my family and friends while weeding out the relationships that had no where to go.
Just like everyone's cancer is different, everyone's experience with it is different. I'm sure there are some that would curse me for saying cancer gave me the gift of life. But that's my journey.
It felt good to let that out today. In general people assume that once treatment is done and your hair grows back that your all better. The fact is, the inner healing takes a hell of a lot longer than the physical healing. My doctor knows that. It's why he sat back in his chair and asked me, 3 years later, "How are you doing?"
Most days I'm doing just fine.