So When Do You Get The All Clear?

A mate of mine called mid chemo, a man I’ve been friends with for over twenty years. He voiced his concern with an air of exasperation.

“But when will you get the all clear?”

It was the second time he’d asked and I wasn’t providing the right answer. I was vague and ill prepared for the conversation. There seemed to be so much ahead of me before I could even consider the final outcome. At the time my head was spinning with the knowledge of more chemo to be injected more days of hot and cold sweats, a piece of land to be purchased, the introduction and beginning of six weeks of radiation, and depositing our eldest child at her new school while farewelling my other children back to Qatar. Oh, and Christmas. We had a bit going on.

Eating that elephant, one bite at a time.

“But when do you get the all clear? I know I probably shouldn’t say this, it’s just that our other friend with breast cancer, well, its come back and its in her brain and her bones.”

I winced at the other end of the phone – I knew who he was talking about, while I didn’t know her personally I knew she’d recently had a baby.

“I can’t imagine I’ll know for awhile. I’ve still got a lot of other things to do, there’s still more chemo, I’m yet to start radiation.”

“But don’t they tell you? Don’t they give you some idea of the process.”

The elephant appeared to grow to an overwhelming size.

My voice changed tone, defensiveness set in. My breast cancer was my breast cancer, my story was my story. I had to get through this treatment before thinking about another one. Could everyone just calm the fu… I got off the phone, vented, and got on with what had to be done.

Weeks later after I’d finished my final chemotherapy I decided to ask. I sat across from my very relaxed oncologist and quizzed him on what happened next. Was there a special test? Where would I go after radiation? Who would give me the all clear?

“Kirsty, I’m not going to tell you you’re cured until you die of something else.” He seemed quite happy with his attempt at humour, I imagine it’s a favourite amongst oncologists.

I thought about my mate, I knew he wasn’t going to be happy with the answer.

My cancerous tumour was removed with clear margins in August. When surgery was performed they were able to tell me that nothing had reached the nodes. This is good news, it means the cancer didn’t appear to make its way through the nodes to a more exciting location. In the days after my diagnosis I found myself at various hospitals in an array of gowns being prodded, poked, scanned and x-rayed. My bones, lungs and various other bits and pieces were given the “all clear”.

While the cancer I had was removed because of its sinsiter behaviour (it’s one of the nasties) my treatment was precautionary. Chemo was incase anything lay dormant, and radiation was done to kill anything in the chest wall.

I now wait just like everyone else. I will, like you (if you have boobs), continue to go to mamagrams hoping they don’t find anything. I will, possibly not like you, talk to my GP and breast surgeon about booking in for a yearly MRI just to make sure. Except possibly unlike you I will always entertain the idea that I have cancer. Maybe it’s in my ovaries? Maybe it’s in my brain? Is that mole a funny colour? It only takes once to hear the words “it looks like cancer” to see how easy it is, how random and how unfair. It only takes one time to beleive that if it happened once it can happen again.

“When do you get the all clear”.

You don’t. None of us do.

Until we die of something else.

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