The last time I wrote in this space it was to announce that I’d be leaving The Progress for awhile, to face that dreaded cancer diagnosis.
And now, I’m back.
I’ve emerged from my chemo and radiation cycle with clear scans, the optimistic and expected results of a tried-and-true treatment for advanced cervical cancer. And my body, which had slowly taken a toll from that growing tumor, has been steadily getting stronger.
The beast — which I had dubbed The WombRaider — seems to be gone. Killed off in a series of nuclear assaults, day after day.
In the meantime, I’ve turned 42. And if this is my halfway point in life, I would consider myself lucky. Over the long stretch of time, I know that this past nine months will eventually be a blip; a hiccup in an otherwise fabulous life.
But it was a monumental blip. I’m still counting my lucky stars for the timing of the discovery of the tumor, perhaps just weeks or months before it spread further into other organs. I’m still thankful for the friendly nurses who got me through some very difficult days, and the doctors who spoke kindly and softly when needed, and truthfully when questioned.
And oh, did I have questions. I imagine they don’t get many curious reporters through the doors at the Abbotsford Cancer Clinic. I made up for it. Most days, I asked questions about the technology behind radiation treatment because it fascinates me. But I also questioned my team about advances in medical science, the history behind cancer research, and their own personal reasons for being there.
I asked, and I asked and I asked. It could be called avoidance, perhaps, but I treated each session like an interview and doing that helped me through my day. It wasn’t that I couldn’t turn work off, it was that curiosity has and always will be in my DNA.
Truthfully, I don’t remember the answers to a lot of those questions. The overall experience was overwhelming enough that some details have become a blur. But it was a source of comfort to know that I was still me. I could be laying on a cold table, utterly alone in a radiation room with a machine whirring and beeping around me, but I still had the strength of mind to question the therapists about what was on the screen.
I could be receiving a blood donation, but there was no reason I couldn’t learn a little more about how that particular blood was chosen for me. I learned through the school of experience about everything, from defibrillation to depression. We all know that cancer sucks. I learned exactly why.
Thankfully, some answers have stuck with me, and I suppose they will forever. For example, I asked a young chemo nurse one day, “Isn’t it tough to be here all day with people who are so ill, so close to death?”
“No,” she said. Everyone in that room was there because they chose to be there, she explained. They made the choice to try treatment. Not everyone can. Not everyone does. That stuck with me, every day.
My decision was easy and obvious. Who wouldn’t choose to try? But over the months that followed, I began to deeply understand why. One choice isn’t better than the other, and nobody is to judge another for their choices when faced with this hurdle.
But that brings me back here, to my desk. My old life but with the new me. Smarter, stronger, and humbled by the strength of those who have traveled this path before me, and beside me. And mostly, eager to keep asking questions, seeking answers and sharing them with you.
Jessica Peters is a reporter with the Chilliwack Progress