The Day After.

September 22nd, 2014--last chemo treatment.

What a long strange trip it was.

People often celebrate big events in their lives—birthdays, marriages—on the anniversary of those events. They mark the day of each year and treat it as special, but these were big events when they happened. Marriage days are, for a lot of people, filled with a flurry of activity and there’s not a lot of time for the couple getting married to think of even enjoy it, which is annoying because it’s supposed to be about them. And I don’t remember much about the day I was born, but I’m pretty sure there was a lot of stuff going on with me being dragged from my womb without a view and getting slapped on the ass by the doctor–I told him, “Hey, you could at least take me out to dinner and a movie first,” but that’s another story. It isn’t really until the day after the big event that everything settles down and this new life can truly be appreciated.

This is what I thought as I approached the first anniversary of my last day of chemotherapy, the day when I could officially call myself a one-year survivor of cancer. I had my last treatment on September 22nd, 2014. It wasn’t exactly a happy occasion. It wasn’t bad either, but it was complicated. Three months of my life had revolved around chemotherapy. That’s only a tiny fraction of the time I’d already lived but I’d quickly gotten used to the routine. I’d gotten used to the nurses, to the daily needle stick, the coolness spreading through my chest as the saline first rushed in. The boredom, tiredness, weight gain, the cold rooms, the allergy to sunlight, the swelling in my legs, and, hey, being stuck with a big needle I could do without, but it was all working toward killing off the cancer and that made it all tolerable. It even made it something I looked forward to. I thought, mistakenly, that chemo would be the last step. When I was first diagnosed my goal was to get to remission, but then at least one doctor told me I had “a good chance of being cured”. I’d never heard of cancer being cured—I didn’t even know it was possible, so that excited me. I latched onto that and made the mistake of thinking there’d be an end. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, but I made the mistake of forgetting that when I emerged I’d still be on the same track and that there’d be more tunnels up ahead.

I’ve forgotten most of what my last day of chemo was like. I’ve forgotten who the nurse was, what I did to keep myself occupied, what my wife and I did when I was finished. What I do remember, vividly, is leaving. There was a young man in the waiting room, skinny, with dark circles under his eyes, wearing a heavy shirt that was too big for him and a knitted cap over his bald head. He looked up at me as I was going out. I wanted to tell him things would get better but I didn’t want to offer that kind of false hope. Things were getting better for me but maybe for him they wouldn’t, and I didn’t want to shove that in his face.

It’s a form of survivor’s guilt. There wasn’t a single traumatic event that killed others and left me alive, but I’ve lost people I loved—people I sometimes think, in dark moments, deserved to live more than I do—to cancer. And so many others have died. What makes me special? Why was I so lucky? At least one doctor told me “If you’re gonna get cancer this is the one to have.” Actually testicular cancer is just one of some of the highly treatable types of cancer, but I still don’t know what the odds are or why they fell in my favor. Even when I talk to some other survivors I feel guilty. So many had radiation, multiple major surgeries, and chemo that went on longer than mine. My side effects were minimal. I had a few bouts of nausea—I didn’t even throw up—that were so regular my wife spotted the pattern right away and could make sure I took a magic red anti-nausea pill before they started. I was exhausted but could still manage to get out of bed every day. My immune system was knocked down so badly a cold could have easily turned into pneumonia but that never happened. The worst never happened. I listen to what others went through and I wish they’d had my experience instead. What I went through wasn’t easy, but it doesn’t seem fair that others had it so much worse.

And there’s a selfish side to it too. I think about what I lost. I think about the carefree innocence I had. Before cancer I really sort of felt invincible. I’d blithely wander into labs full of anthrax and bubonic plague and flesh eating bacteria and fix myself a drink and blow my nose with a napkin I found on the floor. That’s an exaggeration, but before cancer there wasn’t any illness that scared me because I could honestly say “I never get sick.” And there’s also the fear that, going back to the train metaphor and the light at the end of the tunnel, I may be in the light right now but I don’t know what tunnels are up ahead. The chances of my cancer coming back are extremely slim but I don’t know if this was just a battle or if I’ve won the war. I don’t say I’m “cured” anymore. I can’t be certain I’ve beaten the crab.

This is what I spent September 22nd, 2015 thinking about. It was not a happy day. Maybe future September 22nds will be easier to get through. Maybe farther down the track there are even days when I’ll forget I even had cancer. Even if the anniversaries are still hard it doesn’t matter. September 23rd I celebrated. September 23rd I put all those dark thoughts out of my mind. September 23rd I sang, I danced, I walked in the sun. I celebrated the day after.

IBEATCANCER

 

30 Comments

  1. Jamie

    I have to apologise for not getting around to reading your blog as often as I’d like to. I find your writing unfailingly fascinating (try saying that when you’re drunk) and I always feel like any comment that I write won’t do it justice.

    With this one, you’ve done it again. It’s both heart-wrenching and enlightening to read, I for one would like to raise a glass and say ‘Congratulations on bloodying the crab’s nose, and may it not be stupid enough to have another go’

    *clink*

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      No need for apologies–you’ve had quite a bit going on. Your praise is greatly appreciated, so much so I feel like I should offer to buy you a drink. And one for Ant too.

      Reply
  2. michelle

    Wow. This is amazing. And I am so glad you made it to your one year anniversary. Here’s to MANY MORE anniversaries. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It is amazing, and let’s hope for many days-after-anniversaries as well. Actually celebrating the day after an anniversary is something I hope will catch on, unless it means buying twice as many gifts. That might get to be too much.

      Reply
  3. Alice

    Happy day-afteriversary.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you–and here’s hoping for many days after for both of us.

      Reply
  4. Gina W.

    This is beautiful Christopher. And I’m so glad you’re here a year later to write it. I can’t help but add that anytime someone mentions “a light at the end of a tunnel” I always think of the saying, “Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a train, but either way your problems are over”. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s hilarious–I never realized I’d never heard the whole expression before. That’s going up there with “happy as a clam at high tide”. All my life I’d heard “happy as a clam” but just about a year ago a friend of mine told me he was “happy as a clam at high tide” and that was the full expression. It made much more sense because that’s when a clam has gotta be happiest.

      Reply
  5. kdcol

    A 13 year old girl I know was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Yeah, cancer shows no discrimination. Miraculously, since it was caught super early, the surgeons were able to remove it all, no radiation/chemotherapy was even required. She still has a long road ahead, just to get her body strong again (and she will ALWAYS have to be on the lookout for the cancer’s return), but so thankful she’s alive and will have the chance to live a life into adulthood. So glad your cancer is gone, Chris. And I hope the effin thing stays away!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That is an amazing story because I know pancreatic cancer is one of the worst forms. It’s one of the ones you really don’t want to get. I know it’s so deadly because it can go so long without being detected but I thought it was also one that was very resistant to treatment. That’s great that the surgeons were able to cut it out completely–that might be the most effective way to deal with it.
      Yeah, let’s keep the crab on the run.

      Reply
    2. Kristine @MumRevised

      Karen, I had no idea! I am clearly not reading your blog well enough to know what your girl and your family have gone through. Congrats on catching it fast and giving you all the best chances to move on.

      Reply
      1. kdcol

        Kristine, not anyone in my family. It’s the little girl of a family who used to live across the street from us and when we heard the (bad) news we were terrified for them. As Chris points out, if you hear a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, it’s usually close to the end. She beat the cancer but she isn’t eating and has lost a ton of weight. If y’all want to check it out on FB and they set up a thing for her on Give Forward — FB page: Help Emerson Fleming Give Cancer the Boot. Give Forward: Search for Emerson Fleming

        Reply
  6. Angel

    Your words have pith. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you–I think that’s the first time “pith” has ever been used to describe anything I’ve written, at least by someone without a lisp.

      Reply
  7. Shawna

    You are an amazing fellow, Chris. I’m glad our internet paths have crossed. This is so true when you stop to think about it. My wedding was probably a lot less chaotic than most because we basically threw together a hillbilly shotgun thing at the last minute, but I can relate with my daughter’s diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes and the births of all of my kids. It only really sank in after everyone had a minute to breathe and think.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Ain’t the internet a great thing? You get to interact with all kinds of cool people–and some of us get to pretend we’re cool. It is amazing that you’re able to hold everything together with four kids and helping your daughter with her Type 1 Diabetes. That’s heavy, but the good thing is she’s got you and the rest of her strong, supportive family.

      Reply
  8. Kristine @MumRevised

    You know what I say to cancer…
    I can imagine how you feel and have friends who say that the first year after the ‘You’re done’ is the hardest. People forget. They don’t ask how you are doing. They don’t bring food and email quite like they did when you were in treatment. So I am glad you told us how you are doing because I didn’t ask. I can’t send food but I can send this 🍕. We have not forgotten what you went through but every day is a gift and we are glad you are in it.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Yes, and I loved what you have to say to cancer.
      And it’s okay to forget. For me at least I think after a certain amount of time I want people to forget. Cancer has been a big part of my life for some time now but it’s not my whole life. Again with the tunnel: in my rear view mirror it’s really big right now, but it’s going to get smaller the farther away from it I get.

      Reply
  9. Jody

    I am taken by your point that the “day after” is when the real celebration begins. As you know, it has been a difficult time for our “tribe.” It is with gratitude that we have you and your gentle spirit and your genuinely refreshing perspective with us.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m so glad to be part of the “tribe” and there to help out not just as an employee but also to contribute the support to others that I can. Thank you for dropping by.

      Reply
  10. Sandra

    oh ugh…I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I remember reading in one of your posts about your cancer, but this amount of detail was interesting, and certainly shows you to be not on perseverant but courageous for sharing this. Easily treatable or not, cancer is the big bad “C” word, and I’m not sure one ever can live without it lingering very far from thought after recovery/remission.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I got lucky, but you’re right, it wasn’t easy. Even though three of the four surgeries I had in the past fourteen months were small outpatient procedures any surgery is a big deal, and chemotherapy was like surgery in itself. And I made the mistake several times of thinking, “oh, well, it’s all behind me now”. I think I’m finally over that, but I do at least look forward to finally having some distance from the experiences of the last year.

      Reply
  11. Margot

    Happy Anniversary of the Day After Your Last Chemotherapy Treatment. Except it seems like it wasn’t all happiness and joy. I read your entire “Fun with Cancer” file over a period of a few days just a little over a week ago, so it’s still pretty fresh in my mind. I really appreciate that you’ve shared so much of your experience of having cancer. It’s rare that one gets to read such an honest and intimate account of that kind of experience.

    I didn’t get it about the survivor’s guilt at first—I thought you’d have had more of a “why me?!” reaction. Then I remembered the time I shared a hospital room with another post-op patient. She’d just had surgery to remove tumors from stage 4 ovarian cancer and said that the doctors said they’d thought they “got it all.” Though she’d been sick for a long time she was repeatedly misdiagnosed and had just learned she had ovarian cancer the day before. Women often don’t survive that kind of cancer when caught early and she was at stage 4. She was really happy because they’d finally figured out what was wrong with her, had removed the cancer, and she was going to get to return to her normal life. Obviously it wasn’t my place to say anything, and I felt just sick that she was very likely going to die and had no idea. And yes, I also experienced a sort of survivor’s guilt. My problem actually *was* fixed with surgery. It wasn’t a picnic, but I was going to go home and start healing.

    I’m glad you can picture that light at the end of the tunnel getting further and further behind you. I imagine that facing your own mortality changes you permanently on levels you weren’t even aware you had.

    I’m very happy you’re still here. And your wife sounds like a saint.

    Reply
    1. Margot

      I just read a little bit more about ovarian cancer and need to correct what I wrote above. I was wrong about women who are diagnosed early (stage 1) not having a good chance of survival. It turns out (at least according to a few articles I’ve just read) that there is up to a 90% survival rate of 5 years. The survival statistics do drop pretty sharply the higher the stage, but it seems that this type of cancer is also often detected much earlier than it used to be. I apologize for saying that most women don’t survive it even when it’s caught early. That information is old and untrue and I should have checked it out before making statements about such a sensitive and frightening topic. Hopefully no one even read that!

      Reply
      1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

        Thank you for sharing the updated information–and it’s a good reminder of the importance of regular screenings. Ovarian cancer is one of those that’s understandably more dangerous because it can go so long without being detected. That’s something that’s true of any cancer, really: the sooner it’s caught the less treatment is needed and the better the chances.
        My own experience is a grim reminder of that. If I’d gone to the doctor earlier–and my symptoms were pretty obvious–I could have gotten by with just a single minor surgery instead of four surgeries and chemo.

        Reply
    2. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      My wife really is a saint–she’s been so supportive through this whole process.
      And the survivor’s guilt is a difficult thing. Something I didn’t mention previously is that I met a friend who’s also been dealing with cancer at the clinic one day after I’d finished chemo, when I was just in for a follow-up. He was fighting a much more aggressive form of cancer and, even though he was doing well, he knew it was only a matter of time. And it really hit me how lucky I am and how unfair it seems. I’m not complaining–I’m thrilled that things have gone so well for me, but part of me also wishes that somehow it could all be spread out a bit more. I would gladly accept some more suffering if it meant others wouldn’t suffer so much.
      Unfortunately the universe doesn’t work that way. I just need to take joy in moving forward.
      And I’m glad what you had was fixed with surgery. Yeah, surgery’s no picnic, but it is nice when you can put it behind you.

      Reply
  12. pointless boob

    Generally reading about people who have gone through cancer makes me anxious. Long story short, I’m at a high risk of multiple types of lady part cancers. i had a large tumor (which turned out to be benign) in my abdomen and had a complete hysterectomy with open abdomenal surgery this past may. Then a few weeks ago I had my second lumpectomy on my left breast. I still have around a forty percent chance of getting breast cancer so it’s hard for me to feel celebratory, but then I also should remember just how fuckin lucky I’ve been so far. So many family members have dealt with so much worse than I’ve had it. Still, I feel like I’ve got PTSD from the whole experience.

    I’m so glad you’ve made it to your first ‘anniversary’ and i hope you have many many more cancer free anniversaries ahead of you Christoper. This was a lovely post.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I know you can’t see it right now, but I’m having a drink and having a toast to celebrate your lack of cancer so far. The surgery you’ve been through sounds pretty awful, and it’s terrible that you’ve had family members go through it. I didn’t know I was at risk until I was diagnosed. I don’t know if that was better or worse than what you’re going through. It must feel like you’re always waiting for a bomb to go off.
      Here’s hoping you have several more cancer-free anniversaries of your own.

      Reply
  13. Ann Koplow

    I’m celebrating this post with you, Chris, a few days after you published it. I can relate to a lot of what you wrote here.

    Love (and letting go of guilt), from one survivor to another.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It means so much to me that you’ve shared your experiences as well, and I’m glad you’re surviving. Here’s to celebrating!

      Reply

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