Engrained in our spirit is the act of looking forward. From a young age we are encouraged to dream, imagine, and explore the exciting things the future has to offer. We are trained to set goals and achieve them. Children innately await the new adventures maturity will bring. Parents proudly prepare for their child’s first steps. Looking forward creates rousing anticipation of the opportunities that tomorrow may hold. We are consistently seeking what’s to come. The future is what we strive for.
There are distinct milestones that remain enveloped in our memory. Our typical landmarks may include graduations, marriage, children, home ownership, age achievements, career successes, weight loss, and financial accomplishments. Never have I encountered someone who has no intent for their future. No matter how big or small the goal is, we seemingly have them all of the time. Long term goals. Short term goals. Wishes, hopes, and dreams. They are synonymous to our existence.
Since cancer has entered my life, my goals have changed. The milestones I have reached are much deeper than my once superficial ideals. No longer do I crave the “next best thing.” No longer am I seeking superfluous nonsense that lacks ultimate fulfillment. The resounding similarity in the majority of my current goals is life itself. Once told I had less than a 20% chance of surviving the first year after my diagnosis, my goal was to beat that. Once told a recurrence would be difficult to make it through, my goal was to survive each time the cancer returned. Through each and every recurrence and subsequent treatment, my unsaid goal has been to achieve one year cancer-free. My goal is life. The one year mark has been my buoy. It’s been my north star while I’ve been lost in the wilderness. My lighthouse in the middle of a raging storm at sea. My compass when all sense of direction was lost. One year cancer-free has been a milestone I’ve desperately dreamed of reaching, but had never obtained.
One clear scan, praise God. Two clear scans, hallelujah. Three? Nope. Never have I experienced more than two clear scans in sequence. Cancer has always reminded me that it’s still here… Sometimes microscopic and sometimes maxing out at softball-sized girths. Reaching one year has become more than a milestone, it’s transformed into a miraculous feat. I’ve often thought, “It’s going to take a miracle for me to hit one year.” My latest scan brought more scanxiety than I have ever experienced. It was the scan I had never made it to. The one milestone I could never obtain. While sinking in the deep and dark abyss of the ocean, it was the buoy that I’ve always seen but couldn’t quite reach. Even though I’ve been fighting for three and half, one year has always seemed so far away… Simply a miraculous landmark.
I battled the inevitable in my head on repeat. I wanted to prolong the appointment’s arrival and fast-forward to the results all at once. Soon, I found myself walking into the doors of my home away from home. The hospital that housed my answers.
After redundantly checking the box that indicates I have cancer, ingesting the nauseating contrast, and waiting the long-winded forty-five minutes as my body soaks it up, my name is called. I try and smile naturally as I approach my technician. My heart races and I fear that she hears the pounding inside my chest. She’s sweet and gentle. She remembers me… They usually do. We joke as I need no introduction to the machine, and no further instruction on the process. I’m a pro, we both know that. I fumble to find a place for my purse. As usual, I then hand her my phone and pose in front of the device that quite literally sees right through me. She awkwardly takes a few snapshots and I ease her quiet questions by explaining the documentation of my journey. We share laughter out of polite necessity. I tell her my particular requests for a slower insertion of iodine, and lay on the cold, hard surface beneath the machine. My technician leaves the room. Everything the scan needs is fulfilled. I’m hooked up, laying still, and my heart begins to slow to a soft beat. A rhythmic tap of a drum, my heart is calm. My spirit is gently strengthened and prepared. No longer is it just the technician and I in the room. My hand is being held by someone neither of us can see.
The iodine slowly floods my body. The warmth is overwhelming and I instantly taste it in the back of my mouth. The machine starts to stir. Loud whirring begins to indicate the commencement of the scan, and soon I am being ushered underneath the spinning technology. The machine tells me to hold my breath for a few seconds, and then welcomes me to breathe once more. I’m praying inside. I know I don’t need to say much. “Please” is all I can utter into my spirit. The machine quiets, and slows to a hum. I’m brought out of the cylinder. My technician says, “All done,” and I thank her for being so helpful. I genuinely appreciate what she does day in and day out. For a split second, my eyes question hers. Has she seen my enemy inside of me once more or is she quietly rejoicing as she knows the results? The waiting begins. I’m looking forward.
After what always seems like months, I received the results. This time, I was back at the hospital in the middle of drug therapy. My infusion nurse, who has become a friend as she has walked me through every step of this journey, smiled as she shared the news. Tears fell from both of our eyes and I could no longer hold back the emotions that I had been guarding. I couldn’t believe it. Frankly, I still can’t.
I have officially reached my milestone! A milestone of the miraculous. One year ago on June 14th, my latest malignant tumor was removed from my body. I received more chemotherapy, and now, one year later, the cancer is still gone. There is no evidence of recurrent or metastatic disease in my body. I’m rejoicing, celebrating, and thanking God for His faithfulness. I’m cancer-free once more, and this time I’m breaking my own records. Now, I continue my drug therapy once every three weeks and recover. From here on out, each scan will be a milestone of the miraculous. I’m not only looking forward, I’m moving in that direction as well.
Philippians 13:12-14 (MSG)
“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”