Yesterday was a good day. This is the time of year when I get to visit what feels like every doctor in the world. Well, at least my world. Mammo was earlier this week – all OK. Yesterday was oncologist and surgeon.
First up was PK – onc. There was the usual followup with my study nurse (for the drug trial I took part in), and reminders to get a colonoscopy when it’s time. Then we talked about ultra running and my upcoming climbing trip to Russia. One of the many things I love about PK is that, while he always makes sure I have great understanding of the reality of my situation and all it’s seriousness, he also encourages all the joys in my life – the things that make it worth living.
Then he told me to come back in a year.
That’s a big thing! After 11 years, I’m out for a full year – I know, he’s totally going to miss me, isn’t he? But seriously, that felt mighty important!
Of course, I’ve been in the game long enough to know the limits of this new development. I remember last year, while celebrating 10 years of healthy survivorship, his finding a lump, as though I needed reminding that I never truly get to put this behind me. Scans, biopsies, back on a 3-month schedule.
But for now, I’ll take the year.
On to surgeon (we talked about her kids – yes her daughter should play bass – and the Olympics). And lunch.
Jean Georges is just a couple of blocks from my hospital. Nearly 11 years ago I got into a lunch habit there. We decided to go there after my last onc. visit before I started chemo. I was due to get back all my scan results that day, and everyone was expecting a lot of bad news. We figured an excellent lunch was appropriate: if the news was bad, it would be my last good meal for quite a while; if it was good, we had something to celebrate. I read the surprise on my doctor’s face as he read the results. Celebrate.
After that, I started stopping in at Jean Georges frequently after doctor appointments. I never planned it, never made reservations, often just sat at the bar. Whenever the news was good, or I just needed a little pick-me-up before the next round of chemo started, I stopped in for lunch. Eventually, when my death did not seem imminent, I realized I ought to cut back on my lunches; if I wasn’t dying immediately I shouldn’t spend all my money on lunch.
But yesterday felt worthy of lunch. I sat outside on the terrace; it was a perfect afternoon – cool breeze, the sounds of Columbus Circle slightly muffled by the hedge. I had tuna tartare with avocado and spicy radishes in a light ginger/soy dressing, beautiful black bass with young peas and fiddleheads, some lovely wines, and finally, shortcake with strawberries – a masterful creation that elevates this simple picnic dessert to lofty heights.
As I delighted in each bite, I reflected. I measured my cancer life in meals. Spring pea soup, lobster, crab cooked 4 ways, beef tenderloin, slow-cooked cod, and desserts made with berries which were a perfection of ripeness.
As pleased as I was, my reflections were also bittersweet. Because this is a world filled with too much cancer, my life is not only measured in meals, but in other lives. My good news was always tempered with loss – Gretchen, Roslyn, Janet, Sharon, and so many others, too many others. And now, Kerri.
The piquancy of the tuna tartare was matched by memories of Kerri, one of my climbing partners from Kilimanjaro. Her triple-negative breast cancer had metastasized, and she had died just the night before. I had not known Kerri long, but her gentle nature and almost palpable love of her 3 year old daughter charmed me.
No, I’ve been at this too long to believe my good news is anything but ephemeral. It is worth celebrating, but it is just a moment. And like friends, a good vacation, a good meal, worth holding onto for as long as possible until they become happy memories.
If you would like to read more about my friend, Kerri, you can read her beautiful tribute on the Above & Beyond Cancer blog.