A Different Kind of Advent Calendar a.k.a. The Countdown to My PET Scan
I never had that cool Advent calendar with chocolates behind each paper window as a kid.
I just watched the dates change to double digits, then blend into the twenties, until finally Christmas descended like a soft pine smelling cloud full of excitement, lit up candles, pastries, and mysterious boxes under the tree which mostly bore my name.
As I got older, Christmas became a day to get things I needed anyway. Merging into adulthood, it morphed into a long-awaited time off work.
Then came July 2012 and May 2013. Eye melanoma and breast cancer.
Two diagnosis within 10 months of each other, combined with a recurrence of the first cancer, mangled my perception of time.
Since then, my life was no longer divided into seasons, holiday vacation countdowns, days off work or other celebrations.
It reduced itself into anxiety and despair filled segments of time, length of which was dictated by surgeries, PET scans, waiting for their results, biopsies, waiting for those results, MRIs, blood work, days till chemotherapy, days till I felt better after chemotherapy, days till next chemotherapy, weeks till another eye ultrasound, months till next PET scan.
Days. Weeks. Months.
Seasons changed unnoticed, Christmases melted away uncelebrated, birthdays blew by unmarked. When my phone rang, instead of feeling a jolt of excitement at who was calling me, I spiraled into an abyss of anxiety, my heart pounding, throat closing up in anticipation of more bad news.
And now, here we have another Christmas and another New Year’s. Another set of time segments. But mine don’t end on Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve. Mine end on January 11 in NYC and January 13 in Washington, D.C. Eye check and ultrasound and a whole body PET scan.
Despite my best efforts, I am slowly whirling down the black hole of anticipation, down the hungry coil of anxiety, of the worst case scenarios, of the what ifs.
I frantically try to guide my brain, forcing it into mindfulness and relaxation and imagining happy places. I fill my lungs with slow breaths, counted breaths, deep breaths, conscious breaths. I distract myself with work. With cooking. With staying awake until my eyes water.
But it’s not working. The cancer fear has poked its way out of the shadows of my memory, and now its head is too big to stick it back into the hole.
It grows. Every day. It inflates like a hot air balloon with some mad man keeping the gas on full throttle. It advances like a dark tsunami. It’s swirling closer and closer like a sandstorm.
And it won’t be over until mid-January.
Do I lose my eye? Will there be recurrence with no treatment available? What about metastasis? I recall my eye doctor telling me the odds for recurrence are 25%-40%. Than, the nasty little voice in my head whispers the inevitable truth that the chances of a successful treatment of melanoma metastasis are next to nothing. How long do I have? And what about the other cancer?
I cross the days on my desk calendar with red exes. My eyes widen as the December days advance. I dread the time when they reach the twenties. I am terrified of when they spill over to the New Year.
I will stop crossing them as they reach double digits in January.
I will be too frozen with fear.