Celebrating graduation day

Mary Letson reflects on her five year cancer-free anniversary.

What does one give her oncologist on her last appointment after perhaps the most important relationship, spanning the most difficult time in one’s life?  Last October I graduated from the standard five-year period (what is the magic of five years?) of regular checkups, all the while wondering if that odd pain or ache was something more ominous than it really was. What could I bring my doctor to express my joy, my unfathomable gratitude to finally arrive at my cancer-free destination? I pondered this the day before my last appointment while my son’s dog and I tromped through the woods – an activity that usually triggers creative brainstorming. Alas, no perfect gift ideas came to me until dog and I returned home and walked into our autumn garden where a smattering of purple dahlias, monkshood and deep orange calendulas continued to thrive in the tangle of deadness. Eureka. Like a symbol of tenacity and hope, a small bouquet from my end-of-season garden was just the ticket. This along with one my Plumeria Sneaker cards was personal. A meaningful thank you.

The next morning with bouquet and card in hand along with a fistful of SwimBowen brochures I made my way across town anticipating, salivating for the utter sense of freedom that was just around the corner. No more tamoxifen (an estrogen blocker designed to starve my particular brand of breast cancer) and all its less-than-awesome side effects. The pill that every morning reminded me where I had been and the possibility that the cancer may still lurk somewhere in me.

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 I understand that for some this last appointment proves difficult as it is the end of an epic relationship. You no longer have the regular assurance of your specialist watching over you, declaring you are cancer free. I didn’t feel this way in the least. I couldn’t wait to never go back to that particular building on Broadway, to sit in the waiting room filled with people in various stages of treatment. I couldn’t wait to close the door, shed that identity and walk away the new, old me.

There was a definite celebratory air in the examining room that day and after all the regular checks and questions and when it was time to go, I handed my specialist the bouquet, card and a SwimBowen Bursary brochure (shameless promoter that I am) explaining the superbly positive project created out of my negative experience. Doc was thrilled of course, we hugged, and, with eyes welling a little we said our last goodbye.

My feet did not touch the ground as I left her office.  I felt unshackled, keen to embrace my new identity free of any tags, medications or appointments to remind me of the C word. Now that’s a graduation worth working and waiting for.

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