one year ago today, i was in the deepest recesses of hell. just two weeks before, i had received a diagnosis that would likely kill me within a year. my 20th floor dong-il suites apartment – with picture window and balcony overlooking the east sea – was upside down. oscar was so freaked out, he started eating my futon. i was so freaked out that i let him… at least it kept him occupied. i was balls deep in grading 150 final exams, exchanging thrice daily emails with my travel agent, first to cancel my upcoming trip to thailand and then to figure out the regulations for getting oscar back to new york with me, running back and forth to the pet store in haeundae to purchase a crate small enough to adhere to aforementioned regulations yet big enough to accommodate my furry adoptee for the 22 hour haul, going out every night to squeeze in a steady stream of tearful goodbyes, skyping back and forth with my family, a somber affair, trying to identify my insurance options and, more importantly, my treatment options.
i spent the very, very little downtime i had (pretty much in the hour i would toss and turn before giving in and popping a valium) trying to wrap my brain around the fact that i might be dying. i made a mental will. i mean, i don’t really own anything of monetary value, but who was going to get my precious maybelline (the guitar my dad bought me for my college graduation)? and what about my words…my 2/3 finished novel, my collection of essays, my five screenplays i’ve been trying to shop on and off for years, the huge stack of journals documenting my travels. would my words just disappear? would my voice just be extinguished?
and then there were my funeral arrangements. who would eulogize me? would they be able to make it through without breaking down? would my mom collapse? what song(s) would be played to commemorate my 40 years on this earth? what tunes would my uncle bust out on guitar while my family was sitting shiva? would they play cards against humanity and toast to the game nazi? where would i request that my ashes be sprinkled?
two days ago, i received the results of the ct scan that marked twelve months in treatment. with a lav mic taped in my cleavage (or as my sound man calls it, ‘the valley’) and a camera trained on my face, i learned that there doesn’t seem to be a trace of cancer in me. now, i’m not one to toss around the word miracle… but if you would have told me one year ago, when i was buried in that hell, that today i’d be sitting on a sweet, different balcony with a view of a sweet, different sea, with a new film in the can and a documentary in the works with development support from HBO, making real plans for a future i can believe in, exploring a new romantic interest, forming a musical connection with new band mates – i’d have probably thought , ‘well, that would be a miracle.’
when dr. wilson told me that my scans were clean, my face, as per usual, was stone. it always takes me a few minutes to process… to believe that this is all real. and then the few of us in the room burst into cheers. and then came another piece of news. since the drug combo i’ve been treated with is now commercially available (ie fda approved), the study i enrolled in twelve months ago is officially closing this month. my look of panic was met with an explanation by clair, one of my clinical trial nurses, that nothing would really change for me except for that my nivolumab will (fingers crossed) be paid for by insurance instead of being given to me free of charge by bristol myers squibb.
dr. wilson leaned forward with the segue, ‘which leads us to yet another conversation to have…’ and then proceeded to tell me that the reason i was slated to stop treatment in march was because that was the timeline designated by the study. she told me that now that the study was closed and i was nine months clean, i was free to cease treatment at any time. to this, i responded with a few guttural sounds and a pool of tears.
i am inclined to just ‘stick to the plan’ and complete the last three months of my year-long nivo ‘maintenance’ treatment. i need time to emotionally prepare for a new chapter when i only spend one day every three months as a cancer patient. there’s so much more to say about this, but it’s too complex to fit into a paragraph or two, and it’s past my bedtime. besides, i’ve yet to sort through this tangle of emotions properly myself. for now, i’ll just say, what a fucking difference a year can make.