Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bombs Over September (Part I of II)

Continued from “My Cancer Story": Welcome to the Cancer Life (Part III of III)
Read "My Cancer Story" from the beginning: The Golden Age (Part I of III)

My radiation nurse gave me a Hershey’s chocolate bar and a hug on my last day. I’d miss her a little, knowing I'd never see her again. That was her job—to send people on their way back to normal life or on the road to death.

The nursing staff and doctors on my clinic and hospital floor wished me luck with a congratulatory banner. Some of them made a major impression on me and I hoped I did the same to them. I didn’t want them to ever forget that I was the teenage patient who physically and psychologically annihilated bone cancer to the extent they’d never before seen.

I always found it interesting that I became cancer-free one year after learning of my tumor, almost to the minute. Not symbolic, just coincidental. My friend, RiddleMeThis, invited me over to his house that night. I had always thought RiddleMeThis was a cool dude, but never hung out with him outside of school. It turns out my group of friends had been spending time with him on many Friday nights. I wondered when this had happened, and where was I?

When I arrived they were on his deck listening to Outkast’s "Bombs Over Baghdad." When the verse “Cure for cancer, cure for AIDS” played, PepperoniNip turned the volume all the way up. “That one’s for you, buddy,” he said.

Everyone congratulated me including one of the more popular kids, Mr. Clean, who gave the most thoughtful compliment. I wondered when I earned the privilege to converse with him, and thought it was cool that he knew and cared about my freedom.

Other things had changed. Some friends had begun drinking and most were dipping. I had been unaware that one of my good friends was sent across the country to rehab until he already left. I didn’t know he was coming back home until he already arrived.

Veronica Varekova Sports Illustrated coverAunt Marchi sent me a $50 gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse for being done with treatment. I saved it for a special occasion, like taking Veronica Varekova out on a date. I ended up using it three years later for my anniversary of surviving cancer. Veronica Varekova wasn’t there.

During an editor’s meeting in journalism class our pregnant teacher mentioned her morning sickness. “Oh yeah?” PepperoniNip butted in. “Well, Ben just beat cancer.”

“You win,” my teacher said.

My port—a device surgically implanted in my chest to make chemotherapy easier to deliver—was removed earlier than usual, by my request. Removing it was like eradicating everything cancer entailed. It was the last piece of physical evidence that proved I ever had cancer. I left the disease in the BIOHAZARD receptacle right alongside my port.

Ports are usually kept for a year in case of recurrence, similar to buying health insurance to mitigate the cost of getting sick. I gave cancer recurrence a zero percent chance and wanted the port out of me. My head doctor authorized its removal, showing that I wasn’t the only confident one. Besides, if my cancer did return then having my port surgically implanted a second time would be the least of my worries.

Keep reading: Bombs Over September (Part II of II)