A man running across a race finish line

"Remission." That Word Has Power. Or does it?

Yesterday was an auspicious date for me. Yes, it was by birthday. Which one? Well, the scientists back at MIT are still trying to work it out, but it wasn’t the only reason this particular Tuesday was special.

Remission anniversary

It also happened to be just about two years since the end of chemo and that means one thing – r…. re… I remiss…  well, yeah, it’s “official.” The “r” word, you know, yeah, that one.

Not cured, remission

All throughout my lymphoma diagnosis, I was reminded at every opportunity that my specific type of cancer doesn’t get “cured,” it goes into “remission.”

They don’t like to use that particular “c” word when talking about aplastic large cell lymphoma, because technically it’s a chronic condition.

Because of this, the word “remission” became almost sacred. Like a secluded monk in a mountaintop monastery, the term took on a life of its own. It made me feel like if I dared to utter it that I needed to treat it with a terrifying reverence that was on par with the Dalai Lama reciting “Candyman” into the mirror five times.

The word remission is mystical

Yeah, that was that level of veneration and awe that the word itself took on. “Remission.” Wow. I just got chills.

Now, I’m not a very superstitious person. Some might disagree, but I will tell anyone who will listen that I do bizarre things not because of superstition but because I live my life with an almost slavish devotion to routine.

I am the quintessential routine guy, there’s no point in denying it. I get up around the same time every day. I eat the same three things for breakfast. I drink the same diet black cherry soda. I wear the same robe I’ve had for almost 15 years – heck, I even use the same spoon that I wash everyday when I’m done.

Why? Because when you have a chronic illness and you find a routine that doesn’t make you feel like a pile of month-old elephant dung, you stick to it, terrified that if you change even one little thing then absolutely everything will go berserk like a tiger at a laser pointer convention.

Terrified to jinx it

Why am I telling you this? Well, to prove how superstitious I am not, so that when I tell you that I was terrified to even say the word “remission” all throughout my lymphoma treatment, you’ll be able to see how unusual that was for me. And I was. Terrified. Like when you were kids, and someone said “jinx” because you both said the same thing at the same time. Like that but multiplied by a million.

Because of this level of forbidden secrecy in which the “r” word is held I am hesitant to admit it, even now that I’ve passed into the officially designated period of r…  rem…  remission. There I said it. (Before this I wrote it in quotes and that doesn’t count in the official rules of jinxing, from what I understand.)

Remission is a diagnosis of "life after cancer"

As you might imagine, my birthday and the official start of the remission period coinciding has brought up some, let’s call them, energetic emotions. So many thoughts about getting older and what the future holds, as well as the fear of the dreaded return and the other “what ifs” – it’s a soupcan of apprehension, anxiety, relief, excitement, and cautious eagerness, or, in other words, it’s life after a cancer diagnosis when you are in remission.

Now, as I sit here writing this and really taking it all in, I’m wondering how my life is going to change now that I am two years out from chemo. Is there going to be a substantive difference? Am I going to stop writing articles here and start making my patented hilarious and quirky metaphors for some other website like an old athlete advertising supplements that give the libido of a teenager? Doubtful.

Mainly because I’d definitely never sell out for a thousand bucks and a case of diet black cherry soda and maybe an Apple TV subscription… …anyway, the point is, don’t worry, you aren’t going to be missing my rapier wit and tongue-in-cheek kindness any time soon, much to your chagrin, I’m sure.

Feeling the same

In fact, being in remission kind of feels just like it did when I wasn’t in remission yesterday. I don’t feel any more remission-ny than I did last week or last month. I didn’t get an official badge, iron-on patch or verified by Twitter emoji. I ate the same breakfast with the same spoon this morning that I did yesterday and my head didn’t explode just like it didn’t yesterday.

So, yeah, I’m in remission now and I feel like all the veneration with which I treated that word for the last five years was unwarranted. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to sound flippant or ungrateful to anyone who isn’t in remission – quite the opposite in fact.

I want you to see that the word itself isn’t a deity and should hold no power over you.

Cancer is about surviving each day as best you can and moving on the next one. Letting some arbitrary word hold power over you and your cancer journey is giving it way too much sway over precious grey matter real estate. Real estate you need focused on living. So whether you make it into “remission” or not, just enjoy the time you do get and do what’s best for you to make it to the next day and do it all again. Talk soon.

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