Remission

Remission: a diminution of the seriousness or intensity of disease or pain; a temporary recovery. -Oxford Languages

Treatment: 6 cycles of R-CHOP, 15 fractions/30 Gy of radiation, pug love
Original tumor size: 9.8 X 10.4 X 15.4 cm
Residual tumor size: 10.2 X 7.2 X 8.5 cm

On Monday, I learned I’m in remission, and I’ve had a hard time putting how much this news means to me into words. None feel big enough. My heart, too, didn’t and doesn’t feel big enough to hold such news. I’ve felt my joy this week constantly spilling over, making everything I touch and do sparkle. Within winter’s core, the sun has broken through.

I went into my appointment on guard, with no expectations, but my oncologist’s smiling eyes above his mask told me I could finally take a breath of relief. As he showed me my CT scan, compared current scans to original scans (“wow” was my and my sister’s response), and went over the radiologist’s notes on my latest CT scan, it felt like I was floating back up toward a bright coin of light and oxygen. The radiologist’s notes are such a gift:

-“Previously seen cardiophrenic lymph nodes have resolved.”
-“No parenchymal lung nodules or masses.”
-“No pleural thickening or pleural fluid.”
-“No chest wall lesions.”
-“Improving lytic lesions involving the manubrium.”
-“Decreasing mediastinal mass consistent with response to therapy.”

It’s common with my form of cancer for a residual tumor to remain, and my residual tumor is hefty, but it appears to be inactive. I have a little bit of pneumonia in my right lung from the radiation, but my lungs are drastically improved. There’s no evidence of congestive heart failure from treatement.

After I shared this news, people asked how I plan to celebrate. Because of COVID-19, my options are limited in that regard, but honestly, reading over the radiologist’s notes are enough of a celebration for me. Allowing myself to imagine what type of future I want to pursue. Just soaking in those glorious rays.

The fact that this moment is a fully-informed one allows me to enjoy it all the more. I think it’s very common still for people to hear remission and think the nightmare is over for good and that the cancer patient is healthy or back to normal. I’m under no such illusion. I know my cancer could come back or that I may get a secondary cancer from treatment. My body has a long road still to travel in terms of recovery; I can only walk for 10 minutes at a time, and standing for longer than 30 minutes at a time is excruciating. But just having a break from treatment is a gift I’d given up on, and the energy that’s returned keeps bringing a smile to my face.

My oncologist said a big challenge now will be the anxiety that’s common during remission (i.e. does this body ache mean the cancer has returned?), but I actually feel less anxiety than I have since this whole ordeal started. Work isn’t great right now, to say the least. The pandemic grows worse by the day. A fascist’s followers just attempted a coup. Having one less thing to worry about in the moment is such a relief. I know there are going to be hard days, I know my remission could end, but I’m going to enjoy this patch of sun until someone proves to me the clouds have rolled in.

When my sister and I walked out of the cancer center, I gave her a hug and said, “We made the right choices.” Out of all the options, despite pressure to go in different directions, I followed my gut. When others were praising DA-EPOCH-R and my first oncologist said that was the right choice, I knew R-CHOP was right for me. Even though people consider the first cancer center I went to to be superior, I knew the second cancer center was right for me, and I’m so grateful to my primary care doctor for recommending it. It was the people at the second center who made the difference. As a fat, transgender person, I’m used to being dehumanized and ignored by healthcare professionals, but the folks at my cancer center have treated me with compassion and respect throughout my treatment. I’ve never felt judgment from them based on my size or my gender identity.

I’m grateful to so many people who helped me get to this moment, and I’ll remember every person who made the hard times harder (fuck them). I wouldn’t be here without my sister, especially. Besides caring for me during treatment and driving me to appointments and so many other things, she brought beautiful pugs into my life. Their love, their light, their joy have been a healing balm for my grief.

But I’m also grateful for how fierce and confident cancer has made me. Someone recently tried to shame me online for standing up for myself, and I brushed this attempt aside like I might a summer fly. I faced down cancer in a pandemic. I have looked my death in the face, have sat side-by-side with it daily, have faced almost all the things I’ve feared over the course of this year. Do you really think you can scare me?

I know my future, whatever that might be, however long I may have, is going to be richer and better because of this fierceness, this confidence. I will always stand up for myself because not doing so harmed me. I will take care of myself, even when it’s hard, and even if it means sometimes saying no to those close to me. I will work to build the world I want to live in, and I’ll leave behind anyone who tries to stand in my way. I will feel all the feels. I will never apologize for voicing my experience, speaking uncomfortable but necessary truths, and making the choices that are right for me. I will not put up with toxic people and their gaslighting because I deserve better. In this way, I hope to honor those who love me, those who have fought for me, and the time I and others have worked so hard for.

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