When it came time for my second PET scan, I thought no big deal. I felt healthy. I had good energy and my spirits were up, but as the date approached I starting getting nervous. I watched the Oscars and when they sang the theme to “Selma” I choked up. I turned it off. I knew my cancer had been diminished but it wasn’t gone. The prospect that it might be worse than I expected was like a rip tide that kept drawing me into deeper waters. On the outside I thought I was “fine” I was “good” everything was okay. I’ m not the type to complain, but fear returned.
I set my appointment very early. The imaging center usually has nightmarish waiting times. I arrived first, great. I was given a horrible liquid to drink and another man showed up. The sight of him bothered me for some reason. He smiled. He was chatty. I was in no mood. He spoke to the receptionist who was dressed like a nurse. He was nervous so he talked and talked. He told her all about himself. We all want to make a claim in the world. We have a need to name ourselves, explain where we’re from, and how we’ve arrived there. The old man sat down and I avoided eye contact. That didn’t prevent him from finding some way to connect with me. He told me he liked my shoes.
I had a hyper sensitivity to everything. Like most people, I see the world through my own camera. I’m the director, the actor and the producer, so when this world is threatened I get shaky. I see others living with a causal normality, but I float, no longer in charge.
While at the imaging center I tuned into my surrounding on an acute level. I looked at the magazines. People and Men’s Health. Latina. There was a morning program on the TV that was beyond absurd. The office had a mind numbing banality to it. I think all doctors must use the same interior decorator.
I was ushered into another room and injected with fluid. The technician was an elderly man who explained everything to me in great detail. He pricked my finger and told me my sugar count, he told me what fluids were in me, how the machine worked. I felt like I was in good hands.
“You’ll be radioactive all day,” he said.
I was told to put my hands over my head and to not move for 25 minutes. I tried to pray but I couldn’t. My mind was a blank, thinking nothing, maybe I had finally surrendered to the process? Or I was more willing? Either way I didn’t seem to care.
The scan ended and the technician smiled as if I had accomplished something.
Later on I went to the beach. It was mid-day and the tide was going out. It was the first day of a swell. I was stoked that it wasn’t crowded at all. It was warm and off shore. The ocean had an inviting deep blue color to it. There was a section at C Street where the lefts were pumping. I caught one and leaned into a wall of bending water and light, water that now appeared more green than blue, translucent and ephemeral, transitory, a gift. There’s nothing like surfing to be in the moment, nothing where all the cells in your body are completely concentrated and yet you’re relaxed, and nothing where your success is entirely contingent on your willingness to work with a motion you can’t control, with the movement laid out before you.
The remaining part of the week went badly. I felt awful but I didn’t know what was wrong, really. I couldn’t pin point it. My usual ways of dealing with things didn’t work. I visited my favorite coffee shops. I wrote, I hiked, I read. I read a lot of the Guatemalan Rodrigo Rey Rosa. I wished that I could write like him. I watched soccer with Conor. I walked the dog. Nothing worked so when in doubt do something for someone else, right?
I made some nice dinners at home. I played host to a friend who stayed a couple of nights. I mailed a book to the host who put me up while I was in mammoth. I began to feel better, but then there’s this little thing called the subconscious. One night I dreamed I was playing soccer. I was the goalie but I was wearing flip-flops! I didn’t want to be subbed out so I tried to hide the fact that I didn’t have any cleats on. This was dreaming logic, of course, and it all made sense. When I woke up I burst out laughing.
My results came in a yesterday. I visited Dr. Shah and once again I was the first appointment. I arrived before she did. I watched her walk in through the back door and put on her “doctors coat” while I was weighed and my vitals were checked. She appeared with her usual smile. I noticed that her lab coat had pen stains on it and she was wearing clogs.
“Your tumor has gone from 5.8 centimeters to 2.3,” she said, “and the malignancy is inactive.”
The news stunned me. Once again I was adrift. I floated but in a good way. I felt the security of boundless time, the illusion of it. I was the director again, directing myself in the movie in which I stared in. I wanted something definite, though, something a kin to its gone forever and it’s never coming back!
So I pressed her a bit.
“Do you know of any cases where there has been complete remission with my type of cancer?”
She told me that the lesions on my bones were also inactive, “but cancer will always be with you and we’ll have to treat it like a chronic disease.” I was okay with that. In fact, I was grateful beyond words. It was hard to talk for a few minutes while it sank in. I thought of two of my friends from my cancer support group that have succumbed to this disease. I thought of other people I know that are fighting it. There is no rhyme or reason to any of it.
“Thank you,” I said, “Thank you so much.”