February 7, 2012 was my final round of chemotherapy. I remember waking up that morning with the theme from “Rocky” running through my head (those of you who know me will not be surprised by this) ready to get it over with. I was ready to be done with the fatigue, the needle sticks, the fear of germs, the idea of poison circulating through my body. I was ready to get back to my life after this unexpected and frightening “pause” of normalcy. I wanted to go back to the way things were “before cancer.” Molly’s life BC.
As I arrived at the cancer center, donning my “Yes they’re fake, the real ones tried to kill me” shirt (my motto: laughter is the best medicine!), I was greeted with a “graduation” tiara. As silly as it seems, I’ve never been more proud to wear a cheap piece of plastic in my life. I was hooked up to my IV and the drip commenced. My husband Scott was by my side, as he had been throughout every step of my journey, and we settled in to watch old episodes of “Arrested Development” to pass the three hours. I looked up periodically at the IV bag, full of the drugs that would hopefully kill any lingering cancer cells in my body, slowly emptying its contents.
As we moved into the final half hour of my chemotherapy, one of my favorite oncology nurses, Rob, came over and knelt down next to my chair. We started to discuss the idea of the “new normal,” and what that would mean to me as I went forward with my life. After that final chemo bag emptied, he told me, I would go back out into the world without the comfort of actively treating my disease. And that is a difficult adjustment. It is scary. But he also gently reminded me that no one knows when or how our life will end. The important thing is to keep living each day to the fullest, to embrace life.
Then the IV infusion pump started to beep. I was done. The bag was empty. Chemotherapy was over. And it felt like life was just beginning again.
Molly’s life before cancer. BC. That is no longer my reality. Cancer is forever a part of the vocabulary of my life. The fear that every new ache or pain is somehow related to this disease is part of my everyday, but I try not to let that get in the way of living life. The part of this “new normal” that makes me the saddest is the fact that cancer has become a part of my daughters’ vocabulary. In trying to understand my various surgeries and treatments, my six-year-old summed things up most poignantly: “The chemo is the medicine that makes it so you don’t die, right Mom.” While she shared this in a very matter-of-fact, unconcerned tone, I was none-the-less choked up as I replied, “That’s right, sweetie. That’s right.”