July 3rd, which was two days ago, marked five years since I was made relatively cancer-free by a Total Laparoscopic Hysterectomy, which is a procedure that removes the cervix and uterus while leaving the ovaries to do whatever it is that ovaries do when they are freed from their original compatriots.
Five years is the magic number. Had I not had severe fears about all doctors for the first three years after sugery, I would have gone to the doctor for a pap smear every six months and a yearly CT scan. I finally snapped into understanding the real possibility of death and have been fairly faithful with my appointments over the last two years. Each pap smear and CT scan showed nothing out of the ordinary.
That's disappointing every time, because I always kind of held out hope that they would find weird things inside me like bottle caps and keys and whatnot like that woman I read about as a kid in the Guinness Book of World Records who compulsively ate objects in her sleep. When they cut her open, they found all kinds of household items including hundreds of safety pins.
As I said, though, five is the magic number. At five years, I get to stop my bi-annual pap smears and CT scans. Technically, I am considered to be pretty much in the clear, and I can go on with my life without feeling like every doctor's appointment might be about how I'm going to die.
That "technically" is only the technical part, though. My heart doesn't understand that I'm free. Part of me imagines that a seed of the cancer remains and lies in wait, ready to spring into rapid growth with the right provocation.
I just stopped to remark to the Palinode that this post is turning out to be really depressing. When I started, I was going to be light-hearted and bright about it, because come on, I don't have cancer anymore.
I DON'T HAVE CANCER ANYMORE!
It turns out that once I was told I had cancer and let that fact sink in, I was never able to go back to feeling what it was like to not know I had cancer. The time before feels like an innocence I don't get to have anymore.
I've been weighted down with this for the last more than five years, but it just occurred to me during this exact moment right now as I'm writing this that this loss of innocence, like so many other hard things, is less of an obstacle and more of an invitation.
(If you've come this far through this entry, thank you, because it's these revelations part way through that really get us where we're going.)
I've always felt that I was robbed of a certain kind of innocence when I was told I had cancer, but, suddenly, I can see the invitation in it. I am being invited into a deeper understanding of my place here as a mortal being. I am being invited to value time in a new way.
I have always seen time as this cruel boundary that defines our eventual deaths — I've been gifted with such a sunny disposition, don't you know — but I just realized that it is also time which defines the boundaries around who we are and how we exist and what our relationships are to one another and the rest of the universe. Time makes whatever gifts we have here possible.
Time's defining boundary around our lives makes everything we love possible.
I think I've become just a little more hopeful.
I am five years and two days cancer-free today. I really am five years cancer-free today, and it turns out that this innocence we're all told to value so much isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Here's to letting life rob me of innocence for many more years to come!