Knock on Wood: A Surprising Reaction to Remission
During the pandemic, the author has a muted — yet grateful — response to her good news
After I tell you what's happened, please knock on wood. Or say "kinehora." Or whatever curse in reverse you use to keep the evil eye away. Cause I'm not in a position to tempt fate. I can't appear arrogant or too confident or my good news could be jinxed: I just found out I'm in remission.
The weather forced a cancellation of my in-person doctor visit to review the results of my scans and blood work after six months of treatment for peritoneal cancer, which was diagnosed in August. Thus, I heard my new favorite word on a tenuous video chat with the doctor during a snowstorm. I knew whatever she was going to say that morning would alter the way I saw the rest of my life.
"Remission" she said. Then like a scene in an over-the-top-TV movie, my internet cut out. Her mouth kept moving but I couldn't hear a word. I almost cut out. In the 30 seconds it took to reconnect, I viscerally understood the meaning of "flooded with relief."
The News Deserved Champagne
The call ended and I sobbed, waiting for that release of dopamine and serotonin I imagined coming my way after learning of "the disappearance of the signs and symptoms of disease."
I knew whatever she was going to say that morning would alter the way I saw the rest of my life.
That deserved to be a champagne-popping-dancing-on-the-table moment if there ever was one. In before times, it would have been celebrated with the appearance of family and friends within hours and my favorite hamburgers and French fries and a bit too much vodka, all accompanied by wordless glances acknowledging the good fortune of my dodging a bullet… along with lots of loud laughter.
Instead, the silence and isolation of pandemic times gave anxiety full rein to rudely push all those virtual "yays" aside.
Without the benefit of being distracted by the goodies that deep, loving connections supply, I felt cheated, disappointed in my muted reaction to the news I had dreamed of for months. I accept the risk of sounding ungrateful…believe me, I am not…and appreciate more than I can say the reaction of those who rejoiced at my news.
I remember the joy I felt through the years when I learned dear ones went into remission. That's why when I got my own glorious report, the absence of those same intense positive feelings took me by surprise.
Seesawing Between Dread and Gratitude
Joan Didion said, "I write to know what I think." Writing this helped me to figure it out. With grief, we don't move on, we move forward. With addiction, we are not "recovered," we're forever "recovering."
It's similar to my brand-new uncharted reality which includes taking a daily dose of oral chemotherapy. I occupy the unsettling space between being terminal and being cured, seesawing between dread and gratitude. For me who's always hated seesaws, squirreling away the angst is going to take some getting used to.
After surviving the tsunami of my prognosis and the grim days following chemo, I'll figure out the way through the next phase of my life.
I've always prided myself on being a glass half full kind of gal, so whenever a picture of that damn sword of Damocles hanging over me pops into consciousness, I search to change the channel. I silently chant my children's names, then words like chronic and manageable and LUCKY. And springtime and hot dogs and Paris.
That stuff you read about how being aware of your mortality can give small moments a top-coat of lovely shimmer? All true. I had a Proust- worthy omelet this morning. Enjoyed the sweetest catch-up call from my forever friend. And sat cozy and mesmerized in front of a crackling radiant fire. I've had days like this before. Dozens of times. I take that back. I haven't.
We've all put our lives on hold this year. We're all facing a future that includes knowledge of how oh-so-vulnerable we are to 100% disruption. After surviving the tsunami of my prognosis and the grim days following chemo, I'll figure out the way through this next phase of my life.
Today it's like I'm walking barefoot over old cobblestones. I'm on guard, mindful of each step as I move forward. Although it feels more precarious than wearing shoes on the sidewalk, I'm still walking in the same direction, toward the same goals. In the same company. Under the same blue sky. And I have time. Knock on wood.