Bang the gong the cancer is gone

Bang a gong, the cancer’s gone

Published by The Day  – January 29. 2016 5:03PM

Melissa Johnson

An ongoing series about life after a breast cancer diagnosis at age 31.

Treatment is over and I’ve been thrown from the nest. Well, not really, but that’s what it feels like sometimes. My 30th and final radiation session was Jan. 21; I hit the gong as the radiation therapists and office staff looked on, and had celebratory cupcakes with my dad afterward. I also made him hit the gong because the center was still very new when he finished his own radiation treatment in 2014.

At my final meeting with my radiation oncologist I cautiously asked her, “So, can I say my cancer’s gone now?” She replied, “You absolutely can!” Wow. That was the news I’d been waiting to hear. I realize, of course, that I’m not home free. No cancer patient ever really is. There’s a possibility the radiation did not kill every last cancer cell in my body, and that the spots on my liver discovered on my first scan months ago might be cancer after all, as my medical oncologist told me. I could get cancer again five, 10, 20, or more years down the road. No one gets out of here alive. But for now, the fire is officially out.

All existential ponderings aside, I have no further cancer-related appointments scheduled at the moment other than a CT scan in a few weeks and a follow-up with my surgeon in May. I also have to get my port flushed every six weeks. The port, or port-a-cath, is the small device implanted in my chest and hooked up to a vein in my neck so that the chemotherapy drugs are more easily and comfortably administered. I could have it removed, but a part of my brain worries I’ll jinx myself.

On the advice of my medical oncologist, I saw a gynecologist last week to talk about my menopausal status. I haven’t had a menstrual cycle since the month before I started chemo last June, so she ordered a blood test to check the level of estrogen and progesterone in my body. We’ll decide from there if I need birth control (not a good idea to get pregnant on Tamoxifen, or at all as a hormone-fueled tumor sufferer). We’ll also decide if I need that monthly Goserelin shot I mentioned last month to shut down my ovaries and help my prognosis. But I’ll definitely be on Tamoxifen for about five years.

By the time I’m off Tamoxifen, I’ll be 37. I didn’t preserve any eggs before I started chemo — I looked at the grueling self-inflicted shots and daily drives to New Haven that were required for the duration and decided I’d take my chances down the road or adopt. My best friend recently had a baby and is able to stay home with him because her husband makes enough at his job to support the family. My husband and I wouldn’t have that luxury, and I’d want one of us to be able to be a stay-at-home parent. I’m also not sure we could handle the stress of a child, as rewarding as parenthood may be. Seriously, hats off to all you parents out there.

So. My energy is back to my pre-cancer levels. I have a cute pixie hairdo. My neuropathy is still there, tingling away in my toes, but I don’t notice it much anymore. I can walk just fine. I’m still struggling with my weight and healthier eating, which I suspect are factors that caused my cancer in the first place. One step at a time. For now, I’m nurturing as many friendships and planning as many trips as finances will allow, and rekindling as many old friendships as Facebook will allow. I even dusted off my fiddle and joined a bluegrass ensemble.

Life is good, and cancer will be conquered one day. I firmly believe that. Now I’m off to the bank to complete the next step of officially changing my maiden name to my married name — because Melissa Babcock had cancer. Melissa Johnson does not.

 

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