The good news is that I have received a series of small miracles.
I have moved off of the sofa. I can stand for longer than a minute without getting dizzy and nearly passing out. I can finally –after a winter that never seemed to end– sit in the summer sun and soak in its warm, soothing rays.
I am still alive. Because of a pill. Without it, the doctor predicted, I would be dead this month. Right now, probably.
The pill, Cabometyx, was designed to choke the blood vessels that feed the football-sized lumps of kidney cancer inside me. The doctor warned me when I started that “success” doesn’t mean cure. It means the tumor hasn’t grown or spread any farther. If the tumor shrinks, that’s considered a miracle.
In April, I got the miracle. My tumors were less dense. Fewer cancer cells lived inside me. Sadly, that doesn’t change my story’s ultimate end. Cancer is too wiley a foe. The pills won’t work forever. My cancer will ultimately become immune to the treatment, and the tumors will grow again.
But not today.
I’ve won a little more time. I have been given a lottery ticket. The prize: A chance to be one of the thirty-seven percent who are still alive one year after diagnosis. A chance to be one of the eight percent who survive for five years.
It’s funny, though. Every victory is small, short, and comes with a price. Nothing is free. Cancer treatment is a lot like ‘the catch’ in fiction. The genie’s wishes never work out the way the wisher expected. Deals with the devil always come with unintended consequences. The cruel irony of cancer treatment is it grants you life, but only a half life.
Cancer treatments make your body go haywire.
You’re never hungry, but you have to force yourself to eat. Yet, eating hurts. Sores linger in your mouth and throat. Food tastes like metal or ash. Nausea is ever-present. Some days you throw up everything you’ve worked so hard to eat, and you cry after the deed is done, because all that work and pain was wasted.
My feet are so swollen I look like I have a ham on the end of each leg. There are sores just under the skin on the soles, making walking excruciating.
Some people lose their hair. Mine has turned white. All of it. Including my eyebrows and eyelashes. I do not recognize the gaunt, pale, white-haired starving woman in the mirror.
See? The photo on the left is me one year ago, before the diagnosis. The photo on the right is me last week, after five months on medication to fight stage IV kidney cancer.
(Warning: If images of people who aren’t healthy and perfect bother you, you should still probably scroll down because this is the real world, and death comes for all of us, so there’s no need to be squeamish. Life ain’t pretty all the time and the sooner you learn that, the better.)
Living hurts. The price tag is steep. I’m still saddened and angry that I got cancer, but I am still alive. Life is beautiful, and I am thankful for each and every day I get to live it.