After two years, the if questions remain

I froze when I recognized the voice on the phone line.

“This is Dr. Gallimore,” she said. “I’m calling with the results of your MRI.”

I am two years out from a diagnosis of stage 2, triple negative breast cancer. After being diagnosed in March 2020, I underwent a lumpectomy, about six months of chemotherapy and then radiation treatment.

Thanks to all that, the cancer is gone.

Many breast cancer survivors are put on hormone therapies longterm but triple negative breast cancer does not have hormone receptors, so those drugs aren’t helpful for me.

All that’s left for me, medically speaking, are these frequent tests and scans to make sure the cancer is staying gone.

I have blood work done every few months when I see my oncologist. I have a mammogram and a breast MRI once a year.

I had undergone the MRI recently and my new doctor was calling with results.

In an instant after hearing her voice, my mind combed through the tangle of possible bad news she could be calling to tell me.

The cancer is back.

It’s in both breasts now.

Worse, it’s spread to my bones, my brain, lungs.

Stage 4.

Metastatic.

“Everything looks good,” she said instead. Her words brought me back to reality.

“Oh. Good,” I said, finally breathing.

If you’ve ever wondered what life is like after cancer treatment, this is one aspect of what it’s like.

Sitting in the medical office waiting room before getting an MRI recently.

I am doing well.

The neuropathy that I felt in the bottoms of my feet has gone. My hair is growing back, although slower than I’d like. It’s short and curly and I still don’t know quite what to do with it.

The exhaustion from radiation treatment is gone. So is the soreness that plagued my legs in the days after treatment.

I generally don’t think about cancer. I don’t worry much about it returning. Even the tests and scans have become routine to me.

And then, like when the doctor called, I do. I’m reminded of how quickly my life could change in an instant with the delivery of bad news.

Cancer also comes up sometimes when I’m thinking about my career and life goals, however simple they may be.

I’d like to run the Charleston Distance Run.

One day I want to write a novel or a memoir.

I want to adopt a dog.

I want to travel the world.

When my dreams are too far into the future or they rely too much on physical health, cancer is always the caveat. It’s always the wildcard that could throw everything off in an instant.

If the cancer doesn’t return this year, I’d like to run the Distance Run.

If I live long enough, I’d like to write a novel or a memoir.

If I’m healthy, I’d like to adopt a dog.

If

If

If.

But I realize that it’s not just those of us who have had cancer — all of us live with the if questions about life. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. There are a million ways I could die before the cancer ever has a chance to come back.

All anyone has is today.

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