Me and the tap water circling the sink drain
Because it’s heavy
But I’m trying really hard to keep my nose clean
And the blue out of my arms
But it’s not easy
Julien Baker, “Good News”
You’ve probably heard this one before. Try not to think about pink elephants. Whatever you do, think of anything else but a pink elephant! And if you’ve heard it, you probably also know that it’s impossible, once this phrase has been spoken, to think of anything but.
This is what scan week is for me. A whole lot of trying not to think about something. And the more I try not to think about it, the bigger and bolder it becomes in my mind. I dial myself back from researching. I dial myself back from the message boards. I step myself back from the cancer, and try to pretend that everything is normal. Or whatever I try to pass for normal these days.
Normal, but with an colostomy bag. Normal, but with a home care nurse coming to visit. Normal, but with weird side effects. Is this one from chemo? From my last surgery? Is it related to my early menopause? Does it really even matter any more?
Everything got turned upside down about 17 months ago, and I have been walking on the ceiling ever since. The world is deceptively familiar until I focus on a single object and realize that it will never quite look the same to me again. I am happy* (with an asterisk). Like revisiting a trampoline as an adult, there are no free, soft falls anymore. I have changed and the gravity of my diagnosis places bruises where they weren’t felt before. But I’ve been gifted the moments. Family and friends wrap around me like a warm blanket. I take in the sounds and the smells and live, for just a second, in a future-less existence.
And when the blanket comes off, I find myself still here. Not dead yet. Not really sick yet. I am well past halfway to the median life expectancy for stage 4 colon cancer past diagnosis. Seventeen months in. Ten months to go to be able to say that I made the top 50%. Ten months. It seems impossible that I won’t be here then. And yet I logically know that it is not impossible. Probable? Perhaps. I think that I will still be here, but how much closer then will I be? What, if any planes will still be left on the runway?
Pink elephants. Pink elephants everywhere.
We aren’t really cut out very well to deal with the mindfuckery that is life with terminal cancer. To wonder, every day, when the limb we keep climbing out onto will finally snap. So we play games and invent superstitions.
I have somewhere between a few months to possibly even a few years left to live. But I don’t talk about years. I refuse to talk about years because if I do, they are almost guaranteed not to happen. And if I talk about a future event as if I will be here to see it? I can guarantee that I won’t. I pride myself on logical thought- like I am somehow hovering above it all. Then fear has me camping out here in the corner of superstition just like everyone else. The only difference is that I can see it happening and get to berate myself for my own foolishness every step of the way.
Every scan is big, but I could argue that the last couple of scans before this one were bigger. I had a gigantic tumor growing in my abdomen and threatening damage to my organs. My tumor markers were increasing alongside of it. There was plenty to be terrified of. This time? The abdominal met is gone. My tumor markers are… stable? If I could handle the last couple, then surely I can handle this one.
But.. like I said, every scan is big. There could be any number of hidden surprises. Tiny “nodules” in my lungs that have not so far been flagged as malignant might have grown while I was off chemo. My liver mets might have grown. And what if something in my peritoneum shows up on a CT scan for the first time?
And there’s more than just that at stake. Hope. Yup, you heard me, I used that word. Good scans this time around could be really, really good. They could signal that I am set for a period of stability on this line of chemo. And there have been a couple of tiny hopeful slivers going on in the background (and which I refuse to bring up in this blog) that also could happen, such as…
Stop it! You haven’t brought them up for a reason, dummy. You are jinxing yourself. Now something bad will happen for sure. The elephants can hear you, they’ve adopted a neon hue, and they are laughing their asses off.
Quick! Play a game on your phone. Do a load of laundry. Do NOT listen to that webinar on the ASCO GI conference. Or read that devastating post about an 11-year-old boy with colon cancer and peritoneal mets getting HIPEC surgery. And especially don’t read that latest post about another person from the cancer groups who has died. Avoid all things that you remind you of the cruel, vicious, and arbitrary nature of this fucking disease. Better to just avoid the topic of cancer and scans altogether and everything will just go away and be fine again.
All I have to do is stop thinking about pink elephants. Nothing could be simpler.