Last week, I had another cancer scare.
I’ve been in remission from breast cancer for about two years now. Every six months, I get a scan to make sure there aren’t any new shenanigans going on at my cellular level. Of course, “sure” is a relative term; I have what’s medically referred to as dense breast tissue, which is a technical way of saying my boobs are fibrous as fuck.
After this most recent scan, my oncologist called. The images showed a suspicious area the size of a grain of rice. I needed to go back in for an MRI-guided biopsy. She reassured me that sometimes these tiny spots don’t even appear on the follow-up scan – they can be just imaging blips, or regular hormonal changes.
This is the general reality of being a cancer survivor: everything could be fine, or some minute part of you could be decidedly not fine, and you just won’t know until you know.
For two days, I practiced the art of acknowledging fear without actually freaking out. Chances were decent it was all nothing, but I was also looking ahead to how another round of cancer might feel. What would be the same, and what would be new? What decisions would I have to make? What would it be like to exist in the liminal space of illness for a second time?
When you get diagnosed with cancer, you find yourself the potential protagonist of a whole slew of pop culture narratives, from Livestrong hashtags to Christian religious awakenings. Most of these stories have been easy for me to shrug off; I don’t own any rubber bracelets, and I haven’t been to church in years.
There’s one story, though, that did worm its way firmly into my brain, so seamlessly I didn’t realize it was just as artificial as all the others.
That first night after I got the news, I lay in bed looking at the ceiling, as one does when one’s hypothetical mortality suddenly becomes a calendar full of real chemotherapy appointments. Most of my thoughts were cloudy and distant, but one was completely clear. Whatever happened next, I was going to become a different person than I’d been before.