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What's in a name
I sometimes wonder if this entire experience would be a little easier to deal with if the word "cancer" had never been attached to it. As I mentioned, in a much earlier blog, there is a stigma that comes with the "C" word. It’s a doom-and-gloom scenario that is cast over you, you're the underdog regardless of what type of cancer you have. It doesn't matter what stage it’s at or where it’s located.
Now, I'm not trying to diminish the reality, or sit in a corner with a 'denial' hat on, I know what cancer can do. But, we have to remember it's not always the case. I am just wondering out loud if it would make a difference, psychologically, for those of us diagnosed with "C_n_ _r", if it was referred to as a disorder or maybe, just a disease. I don't know who would decide that, and it doesn't mean it would change the particular prognosis, but I'm willing to bet the anxiety and stress levels would be significantly reduced for some patients.
Just for the record: For almost 150 years, the illness I have been diagnosed with was referred to as simply Hodgkin's Disease. It was named after a Thomas Hodgkin, a British pathologist. It was in 2001, when the World Health Organization decided the preferred term should be Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph tissue.
Personally, I prefer Hodgkin's Disease -- a disorder of the lymphatic system. I know, I know, that still wouldn't change the fact, that scientifically speaking, there is an abnormal, uncontrolled growth of cells going on. That growth is a tumour, hence, a "cancerous growth." I'm just saying, overall, I think it would not be as traumatic if that six-letter word was omitted. Perhaps the only one who can really answer that, are the people who are directly affected by it.
Of course, that would not exclude the procedures required to treat it, which brings me back to June 24th. As you may recall, we were lucky enough to move my chemo appointment to the Thursday, avoiding the Friday setup of G20 Hooligan-a-palooza. Our pre-planning paid off. We arrived at Princess Margaret from the north end of the city with little incident -- only a wee battle with wet roads and a small downpour. The fact that many decided to avoid downtown certainly helped too. I was processed and received treatment almost on time and in a relatively non-chaotic environment. This, however, was still far from an ordinary treatment day. This was the day I would be asked to ring the bell.
I discovered over the last several weeks, at Princess Margaret Hospital, the chemo daycare unit has a ritual of sorts for those who complete their treatments. On the day of your final chemo cycle you are encouraged to ring a large brass marine-style bell that is affixed prominently beside the exit door. On this day it would be my turn.
As I approached the bell, I hesitated... My emotions swayed back and forth, mimicking the large ship that this bell may have come from many years ago. Yes, I was extremely relieved that this part of the journey had appeared to come to an end. I wasn't sure, though, if I wanted to make a huge deal out of it.
On one side, as the nurses explained, it’s a victory. A marker, saluting the achievement that I had made it this far -- something I would have never had to go through if I hadn't been diagnosed.
On the other side, I was afraid to taunt the illness that had invaded my life. I didn't want to get too confident and somehow dare it to come back. Standing there for a moment longer, I reflected briefly, then glanced to the ceiling. This was my way of acknowledging God, thanking him for giving me the strength to get this far.
Then, I turned and whispered good luck to some of the other patients, and at that moment, I yanked the rope and rang the bell. It lasted only a few seconds, but it overwhelmed me emotionally -- especially after hearing the applause echoing from the ward and seeing the smiles on the faces of the nurses and patients. I genuinely hope that everyone on that floor will be able to ring that bell -- and soon. If wishes could be granted though, I would opt for that day when a bell will no longer be needed. I walked out the door hoping and praying it would be the last time.
The next several days came and went, and generally speaking, were okay. I still experience some shortness of breath, which concerns me, and of course, the fatigue. It seems to be the most significant side effect of late. I have also noted that most recently I have an uneasy stomach. Not nausea, it’s more of a nuisance, but its something I will need to get checked on my next visit. It's those little things that all add up and remind you that you are still undergoing treatment and occasionally trigger a moment of fear. I remain very positive, but that doesn't mean there aren't difficult days. And yes, I'm not embarrassed to say even a tear or two. I suppose that's all expected. That being said, lately I am enjoying many more "good days" than bad. This is a terrific, encouraging thing. So what happens next? Well, the plan as explained to me, is to give my body a break for a few weeks (yay!!) before we start the second phase of treatment. So, the journey continues...
"Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you,
they're supposed to help you discover who you are."
-Bernice Johnson Reagon