Someone from my clinic just relapsed. She was 25 when she started treatment for ALL and had been on the same protocol as I am now. A year after finishing, a year free from chemo, she relapsed. The cancer’s back.
Since getting the news that I was in remission I’ve constantly wondered how permanent remission can be when my cancer isn’t something they can remove. I don’t have a tumor growing, there is no radiation they can throw at me to help kill it. They can only give me buckets of chemo and hope to suppress the chromosome that fucked up in the first place.
What happens when the chemo is gone, though? Will my leukemia come back? Will I start having frequent bloody noses, and bruising everywhere again? Will I not be able to walk more than ten feet without being winded? Will I be bald again? Will I survive?
I’m told to not think about it. Just focus on the here and now. Don’t think about relapse, think about recovery. But that’s impossible. How can I not worry about it? While every other twenty-something is experiencing their firsts, what if I’m experiencing my lasts?
Relapsing is on every cancer survivors mind – whether they’ve succeeded in pushing it to the back or it’s setting up camp in the front. It’s there. With every cough, twinge of pain, our first thought is that it’s back.
I’ve been trying to convince myself for the best two weeks that it won’t happen to me. That I’ll be fine. The protocol will work for me. That she had a different subtype that I didn’t know about. That they’ll find a bone marrow match for me, so that even if it does come back I’ll have a silent hero waiting in the wings to save my life.
But it doesn’t help.
Someone who took the miracle drugs that are getting rid of my cancer just proved that they could fail. What if they fail for me?