I’ve been counting, and I’ve made it all the way to 110.
30: one month done and I can do out-patient chemo now. 50: almost half way there. 70: that’s more than half way! 100: oh. my. gosh. I made it to 100…. you get the idea. At the end of each infusion, averaging four hours from check-in to check-out, I would mark my calendar with a giant X. Another one down.
I remembered back to the early months, when the finish line seemed far, far away. At the time, I didn’t know how I would do it. In the end, the answer was simple. Like with so many things that appear insurmountable: one step, one bite, one needle at a time, we make our way through life’s challenges. Slowly, the pages in my calendar turned and the last month was upon me. You’d think it would be easy to get the last few weeks done. But, it became an inner battle of motivation to go in to the cancer center each day.
The Monday of my final week, I had my port removed, with the plan to do my last infusions through the arm. I chit-chatted and joked with the surgeon and nurses throughout the procedure, telling them about my road trip as the doctor dug my portacath out from inside the scar tissue. I could feel the tugging, but I didn’t mind. With each pull and suture, I was being set free. I felt weepy in a good way, knowing what this represented. I no longer needed a port, because I no longer needed chemo. I wasn’t going to be a “cancer” patient any longer. I’d survived!
Just five more days… I secretly wished my doctor would surprise me and say I didn’t really need that last week.
“What’s 5 less infusions out of 110?” I reasoned with myself.
I toyed with the idea of forging a note, “Please excuse Sara from infusions this week. She isn’t feeling well and has a lot to do. Thank you. Dr. XXX”
But, instead, I showed up. You have to show up in life to get somewhere.
I used to be a school teacher, so sometimes I view the world through the memories of this time in my life. Many elementary schools celebrate the 100th day. This is to help the students understand the concept of such a large number by associating it with something concrete; a tangible item like how many days they’ve been in class that year. Plus, it’s just a fun number to reach, and who doesn’t love a party? On the hundredth day, students bring in 100 of something: beans, pennies, red vine licorice… and the items are displayed as a graphic representation of this big number.
Friday, I reached my 110th, and final, chemo infusion. As I contemplated this number, it made me want to gather that many bags of arsenic (my chemo drug) and lay them out in a row for show and tell.
“Look, everybody! Look what I did! This is what 110 looks like. Tada!”
I pictured lining the bags up like dominoes and, as my grand finale, I’d push the first one over and watch them topple and tip all the way down the row.
Nine months had passed, the time it takes to grow a new life, and it was time to say goodbye. The nurses all gathered to blow bubbles, then presented me with a purple heart certificate and a ceramic butterfly. On my way out, I passed by the receptionists and hugged each one before swinging into the lab room to give a good squeeze to the nurses and phlebotomists who drew my blood each week. A young man rejoiced in the elevator with me and patients who overheard the commotion said congratulations as I passed. I cried happy tears through much of it, and noticed I wasn’t alone. These caring individuals, some with tears of their own, had saved my life and now they were genuinely happy to see me go. This is one situation where no one wants you to come back.
Being showered in bubbles!
The celebrations continued after leaving the center. Yiska’s doggy daycare made him a going away gift with his paw print, and my parent’s hosted a goodbye party with all their neighbor’s I’ve come to know and love. I spruced up Sarandipity for tours. We entered in groups of three so all could see her loveliness without being too crowded. As the sun set, we toasted to my travels and finishing my treatments.
Yiska with his best friend at PawsUp daycare. Certificate and gifts. Giving tours of Sarandipity.
Later, just as I was crawling into bed, the phone rang. It was my daughter calling from Maui, out with her friends celebrating this day. She put me on speaker phone in the middle of their table.
I could hear them all cheering in the background, “No more chemo! Whoohoo!”
They clinked their glasses and drank to me, shouting, “Come see us! When are you coming for another visit?! You did it! Congratulations!”
I felt truly loved and fell asleep with a smile on my face. Tomorrow, a new day, a new state, a new way of life.
I woke at 2:00 AM.