Friday, July 31, 2009

Congratulations. You did it!

‘Congratulations. You did it!’ read the silver balloon I carried out of Dr. Goldberg’s office today. I had just completed my five-year oncology follow-up. My CBC results looked great—white blood cell, red blood cell, and platelet counts all within the normal ranges. I am now able to get life insurance; federal law guarantees that cancer survivors cannot be discriminated against when looking for life insurance after 5 years of being cancer-free. In a few days, the proof will arrive in the mail in the form of the letter Dr. Goldberg was dictating when I left. Best of all, I can now officially declare: I am cured!

A swirl of emotions churned inside of me as I took that last walk down the familiar hallway and out the Cancer Center's door. Before I left the examining room, I gave Dr. Goldberg a signed copy of Rebirth and told him how much I appreciated everything he'd done for me and how blessed I am to have had him as my doctor. He was always honest with me, yet compassionate; he listened to and answered all my questions without ever getting defensive or impatient; over the years, he answered every e-mail I sent to him, whether it was a question about my health or my book; and he wrote the foreword to Rebirth. I gave him two big hugs and thanked him. “You’re welcome,” he replied; then added, “Days like today are why we do what we do.” I’m a success story. Hell, I’m a miracle.

I walked out with Renee, a social worker at HUMC whom I’ve gotten to know well over the past year, as I’ve been meeting with patients preparing for or going through stem cell/bone marrow transplantation and trying to get my journal writing workshop for cancer patients started. As we talked, tears welled up in my eyes and the words caught in my throat. I’ve waited so long for this day to come, and yet the experience doesn’t feel all that far in the past. I can’t even explain why I was tearing up except, perhaps, I could finally, at last, breathe an enormous sigh of relief—I'd made it to that coveted five-year mark.

Before I left the hospital, I went to the Stem Cell Transplant Center and spent some time with two brave women—both mothers, both struggling through complications after stem cell transplantation. I listened, shared parts of my story that may prove helpful to them, and gave encouragement. Both were grateful for my having spent some time with them; for patients, it gives so much hope to see someone who has been where they are and is now on the other side of cancer. (I definitely felt that way back in 2004 when I spoke with those who were several years cancer-free.) And these interactions, meeting these survivors are just as beneficial and inspirational to me. They are a reminder of what I went through, which further strengthens my dedication to helping cancer survivors and working toward the eradication of this insidious disease.

Five years – yay! I did it!