Thankful for Another Year, and Oh What a Year!
A late note of appreciation for the birthday wishes and greetings a few weeks back. The last
several weeks took a bit to sink in. Know that your heart warming words meant the world to me, especially after such a brutal year for us all.
My birthday week started with a visit to my oncologist for a six month post-treatment physical. Some would ask, how does that kick of your celebration? Well, to be honest, I still battle anxiety prior to these visits. Just walking through the sliding doors, pushing the elevator buttons, smelling the office hallway, brings back such overwhelming feelings of fear and the unknown that I have to talk my self through each step.
Thankfully the nerves are calmed once I am greeted by the familiar and caring faces of the staff and providers, especially since I have to go to the visits alone due to COVID. They fine folks there appear so happy to see me that I am reminded how fortunate I am to see them again, too.
My visit with Dr. Liu and Jeremy the PA was business as usual. We chatted about COVID, catch up about life after Seattle, then moved on to a discussion about high end watches and ski conditions. It wasn’t until about 15 minutes in I asked to get down to business so I could go back home. While I appreciate the whimsical and light-heartedness of our relationship, I also want to get out of that building for my mental health.
Down to business they got; I admire their ability to switch so effortlessly from laughter to serious shit.
My ongoing treatment plan includes a PET scan and lab work every six months for two years, then once a year until year five. Then I can choose to officially break up with my provider boyfriends or continue to see them as long as my heart desires. I am so fortunate to have the option of whether or not to continue our relationship; I reassured them both I would be happy to keep seeing them for many, many decades to come.
The most important prescription ordered by these two gentlemen included the new birthday regime; I now get to celebrate multiple birthdays a year: my birthdate (Feb 7), my last day of chemo (July 2) and my last day of radiation (August 19). My kids are going to love having all these additional excuses for sugary treats, presents, and parties...and so am I.
My birthday week continued to include a long ski with my girlfriends. I can think of no better way to celebrate life than being outdoors, skiing 16 miles from one end of town to another, Service high school to Earthquake Park. To top it off Don (my handsome and brilliant and incredible husband -- who is editing this for me) and my kids bought me a new pair of skate skis and boots. Man, those new skis are light, fast, and fun.
The ski alone with dear friends would have made me smile for weeks, but just the fact my body can go that far makes me elated.
But the powerful moments were two individuals whom I encountered on the ski.
The first, an old nursing student out biking who survived Hodgkins years ago. She took the time to call me on my old office phone back in late spring after seeing a piece in the paper Don had wrote about COVID, cancer, and haircuts. I didn’t get her message until I was moving out of my office in the fall. Her moving voice mail made me cry at the time, encouraging me there is life after cancer, offering support if I ever needed it. I never called her back at that time, knowing she would understand. So instead the universe allowed me to thank her for that small gesture in person, there on the trail. We both smiled huge grins, tears welled in my eyes, and a fist bump sufficed for a hug.
There were both were, out beating the beast as survivors. She is now an oncology nurse, having just passed her oncology certification exam.
One year ago this very month, I was out on a long, painful ski and ran into a colleague. We stopped and chatted on the trail that day, not knowing one week later I would begin my cancer journey. She was one of the first people I reached out to for medical advice, inquiring about the best oncologist and path forward. Thankfully she helped expedite the appointment process with my oncologist where I was able to be seen one week after discovery of the mass.
Fast forward to my long ski, on my birthday ski again, within one mile from the spot where we skied into one another one year ago....As I skied, I heard “Annette!” I looked up and saw her face. My jaw dropped. Here we were, within one mile of our exact location one year ago, thankfully with a much different scenario. We smiled huge smiles, noting how the universe brought us together again in the same place but different space, and how grateful we both were for one another. I was able to thank her in person for pulling strings, for putting me in the hands of a caring team of providers who helped me heal, for supporting me along the way. I left that encounter feeling so alive, so in awe of time and place. For what seems like miles I couldn’t talk, instead reflected on where I was one year ago and where I am now.
There are moments when it all seems like a dream, and others that are so raw, so painful, so real. Both those trail encounters reminded me of the thin veils that separates us all from life and death. A veil that can be removed so suddenly that the mind cannot register happenings or consequence or place. Yet, with intention and determination, I can see so clearly through the membrane, move through each glide, fill my lungs deeply with air, and exhale the worry, the grief, the fear.
Then, with that gone, breathe in the force, the energy, the magic that is living, that is life.
Thank you, dear friends, for walking this journey with me. If you ever need a reason to celebrate, give me a buzz. For at least three months out of every year, and every day before and after that, my family and I will be.
Much love, Annette