"It was nice of them, he thought sleepily, looking up into the ring of smiling eyes, to look so pleased that he wasn't going to die after all."
-- P.D. James, The Black Tower
So, I saw the doctor this morning.
After weeks of ultrasounds, CT scans, blood work, biopsies, and radiologists, pathologists, specialists and primary care physician visits, it looks like I don't have a recurrence of thyroid cancer. One would think I'd be elated at such news, but it's more like a weary appreciation at this point. It's been a roller coaster month of uncertainty, and that can take a lot out of someone. Still, I'm relieved.
It was seven years ago during this time that my thyroid was an ever-present issue. December 2009 was when my neck first began to feel funny and I saw a doctor. It wasn't until April 2010 -- after several tests, biopsies, etc. -- that the surgery was done to remove the thyroid. Then, in June 2010 came the radioactive iodine treatment. Side effects ranged from becoming infertile for a year (no big whup), to setting-off metal detectors for three months (a bit more serious, but they provided a card for me to show security folks, if it were to happen).
During the intervening seven years, I've had a few of scares of recurrence, but they've (fortunately) proven to be false alarms. The past month has been the most recent occasion. There may be more in the future. It is this that has got me thinking today about what such scenarios are like, and how, someday, they may very well have a different outcome.
For the fortunate among us, illness is something that we may not encounter, at least personally, until a later stage of life. I feel pretty lucky to have been almost thirty-four before having to deal with cancer. Some folks don't have such luxuries. Children who have to grapple with cancer or other ailments have been dealt far worse hands than the majority of us.
Modern medicine does its best to assist us in staving-off the inevitable. We are advised on how to live healthier lifestyles. When that doesn't work and illness finds us, for some, pills do the trick. Sometimes, surgery is required. Perhaps some form of radiation? When all else fails, we have methods of resuscitation. Anything to eke out just that much more of this gift we call life.
Ultimately, we are subject to the reality that we will die. I understand this, especially every time one of these scares occurs. Someday, it won't be a scare. Luck will run out. For those of us who don't go quickly, of something like a heart attack or a stroke or an accident, the end will begin with a somber diagnosis. This is nothing new, of course. Billions of people who've already lived on this planet have endured it. Some, better than others. I only hope to face it with a semblance of dignity, far, far into the future.