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Constant Reminders That I Have Cancer

Christmas morning. I was enjoying a relaxing, festive time with my family. My phone buzzed. It was an automated reminder from the cancer hospital. I had an oncologist appointment in two weeks.

I put the phone down and tried to focus on my family. Seconds later, another buzz, another reminder from the cancer center about my blood work appointment on the same day.  It was almost like cancer was taunting me. “You thought you could put your phone down and ignore me?”

Even on Christmas morning, there was no escaping cancer.

Yet another reminder

That thought occurred to me again a couple of weeks later during that oncologist appointment. I was called in by a nurse, who led me to the vitals station. As I stepped on the scale, I was curious to see how much I weighed.

You see, I’ve worked hard to lose weight in the last few months. And I’ve been successful – I’ve lost about 25 pounds. A calorie-counting app has been a big help.

I’m not bragging here. I’ve put on about 40 pounds since my first cancer diagnosis 16 years ago. It all happened slowly.

The treatment I received then has a possible long-term side effect of weight gain. We’ll call that 10 pounds.

The feeling-sorry-for-myself snacks and desserts after diagnosis? Probably 5 pounds.

A few years later, I slipped on ice and badly injured my shoulder. No exercise, other than physical therapy, for a full year. Another 10 pounds.

Shutting myself in during Covid to avoid getting sick? Another 5 pounds.

And on and on. It all adds up.

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Doctors’ concerns

My cardiologist got more and more concerned as my weight went up. (I see him for my irregular heartbeat, another possible long-term side effect of treatment.) He wanted me to try one of the new weight loss drugs. But I read about them and didn’t like the possible side effects. I’m dealing with enough side effects right now, thanks.

My general practitioner shared my cardiologist’s concern and understood my reluctance. So she suggested the app for counting calories. She’s very happy with my weight loss. I see the cardiologist in a month. I assume he’ll be happy, too.

The oncologist’s reaction

So when I saw the numbers on the oncologist’s scale, I was pretty pleased. And I figured the oncologist, like the other doctors, would be happy as well. But he wasn’t pleased at all – oncologists don’t really like it when a patient loses a lot of weight. It tends to get them worried.

I assured him that the weight loss was all deliberate. “I’m almost certain this doesn’t have anything to do with the lymphoma,” he said. Almost certain. He asked me how much more I intended to lose, and put it in my chart, so he can keep an eye on it.

Looking for something positive

I walked back to my car with mixed feelings. It was a good appointment, with everything seeming stable. But I couldn’t help thinking, “Couldn’t I just celebrate my slightly better health without any complications? Without a ‘Yes, but’?”

The “Yes, but” always seems to be cancer. Even the good things have that little bit of tarnish on them.

After all this time as a cancer patient, I’ve gotten good at seeing the positive. So as I drove past the hospital workers taking down Christmas decorations, I had one more thought.

Cancer hangs around like mistletoe. It’s a poisonous plant. You don’t want to eat it.

But if you avoid it completely, you just might miss getting a kiss from someone special.  So I guess I can live with the bad stuff and keep looking out for the good.

It was a stretch, but it made the drive home a little bit easier.

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