On September 4, Other and I took our daughter C out to dinner to celebrate her 18th birthday. But it was more than just her 18th birthday we were toasting. Over the past year, she has graduated from one of the toughest high schools in the country (in addition to C, its graduates include seven Nobel Prize-winning physicists, the most of any secondary school, and five Pulitzer Prize-winning authors), passed her road test on her first try (proudly outdoing her brilliant and accomplished brother, who has failed five times and still counting), was admitted to an excellent liberal arts college (actually several)—and now appears to be making the transition to same.
But it wasn't just my daughter's achievements that I was celebrating. It was also that I was there to celebrate them. Three years ago on September 4, I found a lump beneath my right breast that turned out to be a particularly lethal form of breast cancer. Back then, I didn't know whether I would live to see any of my daughter's successes (or her brother's—and he's no slouch either, despite the failed road tests). I resisted making long-term plans, in part because it felt like tempting fate. I'm still a little superstitious that way.
I know that three years is a significant milestone—most recurrences for an aggressive cancer like mine take place early on—but I know I'll never be carefree again. I also know that cancer is no more deadly than the afflictions borne by many of my friends—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, which can result in a far faster death. They're all crapshoots.
But as I enter checkup season—oncologist on Thursday, radiation nurse and ovarian-cancer specialist (breast-cancer patients are believed to be at greater risk for ovarian cancer) a few days later, dermatologist (ditto for skin cancer) the following week, breast surgeon a few weeks later, a general physical that I still need to schedule—I taste the fear again, the adrenaline-soaked knowledge that an abnormal blood test, a suspicious ultrasound, a tiny pimple-size growth (and who isn't covered with wens at my age?) can put me back in the wrestling ring with death.
I'm scared, but it's a forced kind of fear, like probing a cavity with my tongue to flirt with the pain. It's also prophylactic: If I'm scared enough now, the crazy side of my brain thinks, I'll get to feel foolish instead of prescient. Or I'll have built up the emotional muscle to deal with any horror that awaits me.
No matter what happens in these or future checkups though, I've had three years, and bad as they sometimes seemed, they were a gift.