CANCER JOURNAL: Able to forget no more

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To Sleep

O soft embalmer of the still midnight!
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine;
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close,
In midst of this thine hymn, my willing eyes.
Or wait the Amen, ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities;
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes;
Save me from curious conscience, that still hoards
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed casket of my soul.

                                                   — John Keats

For past three months, I have tried to forget the six months or so that proceeded it. And I was successful, more or less.

But I can forget no more.

After three months of returning to what I remember being my normal life – the work, the play – I am suddenly reminded about how tenuous this time may be.

In recent weeks, I have been receiving notices from my doctors requesting to see me. On Friday, Feb. 4, I will meet with my oncologist. Next Tuesday, I will have my PET scan. On Wednesday, I meet with my radiologist.

I am reminded how quickly my life can change again. And that the months of chemotherapy and radiation actually occupy a space in the not-so-distant past.

I have lived a healthy and productive three months. I have worked hard, hiked mountains and snowshoed glittery fields of snow. I have dined abundantly with my wife, my family and my friends. I have paid little mind to whether I was eating sushi, fried chicken or processed meats.

I have drank wine by the glass, measured my whiskey in fingers, and gulped Guinness, at times, by the barrel.  I have drank in moderation. And, yes, I have drank in excess.

I’m even playing music again.

I have often marvelled at once again being able to tackle mundane tasks around the house without the debilitating pain in my chest. I can heft loads, shovel snow and move the Earth, without a single pain in my chest.

But, as the doctor’s notices begin again decorate my refrigerator, I am reminded how quickly this can turn.

It was one year ago to the day my wife and I bought our first home and moved in. Shortly thereafter, I began experiencing terrific pains in my chest, pains that, at first, baffled the doctors.

Then came the diagnosis: Cancer. Hodgkins Lymphoma.

I cannot forget the four months of chemotherapy. What it did to my body and those around me.

I cannot forget the other faces in the treatment room. Each complexion more hallow and jaundice than my own. Each diagnosis seemingly more severe. Each loved one seemingly more worn.

After chemo, my 12 radiation treatments seemed mild. Yes, they made me a special Silence of the Lambs face mask, so they could clamp my head down to the table to keep it still. And they gave me a modest, but permanent, constellation of ink tattoos on my chest, so they could line up the laser beams to minimize the collateral damage to my heart and lungs.

Of course, it was disconcerting when the nurses left the room and latched the thick lead door. Even more disconcerting was the rev of the machine and the smell of sulfur when being shot with short bursts of radiation in the chest, neck and face.

By the end of radiation, I couldn’t swallow without it feeling like shards of glass, or taste anything on the left side of my tongue, for more than a week. The hair is just now beginning to grow in the radiation field.

But, I lived. And it was over. At least for a time.

When I first went into this long journey, I didn’t know what to expect. As such, I had no fear.

But I must admit, I am approaching this next week with a fair amount of trepidation. Not wanting to return to the road already travelled.

But I am strengthened by those around me who hope, as I believe, that I will receive a clean scan. So that I may forget again, if only for a few more months.