There are two dates that are burned into my memory. February 15, 1996, the day I was told that I had Prostate Cancer (PC) and April 11, 1996, the day I had a radical prostatectomy to remove the disease from my body.
As I've pointed out in previous updates to the Oncology Bulletin Board, life right after being told one has PC, through each step including what was termed successful surgery, each successive blood test -- every 6 months for the rest of your life -- the fear and concerns continued to diminish. With every anniversary year, hope grows that it -- having cancer -- is finally, really over.
I remember doing my annual updated reports for this bulletin board, messages to other cancer victims and survivors, and how thrilled I was to have achieved 1,2,3, and 4 years post-op, cancer-free. I promised the bulletin board editor, Maggie that I'd write of my successful completion of my 5-year anniversary, because it was to be such a momentous occasion. I never did.
That was almost a year ago. Somehow, I never got around to writing that 5th-year update. Life was and is good, and perhaps, crossing that 5-year mark does something to your memory. "Oh, sure, I had cancer, yeah Prostate, but that was 5 years ago." Suddenly, it's just no big deal. And I never wrote my update as promised.
So what has prompted me to submit what is almost my 6th year anniversary chapter? Well, in December 2001, as I was walking across the parking lot of our local community college -- that's another story for another time - I saw the American Red Cross Mobile Blood Center bus in front of the administration building. They were giving away these neat T-shirts just for donating blood, and I wanted one. But of course, as a survivor of cancer, I thought my blood donating days were over -- thank heavens, because to this day, I still don't like getting stuck with a needle, even for a good cause!
Feeling as if there was no way that I would be permitted to give blood, and willing to forego the T-shirt just to avoid being stuck with another needle, this is what happened. When approached to donate, I responded with that tried and true statement, "I've had cancer, so I can't donate."
Well, to my surprise, these tenacious blood-grabbing volunteers simply asked, "How long ago did you have cancer?" I said, "About 5 Â½ years ago." And they said, "Great!"
I knew I was in trouble. "What do you mean great?" I asked.
"Well, after 5 years, we consider you to be cancer free," said the cute young lady with what was beginning to look like a very bloodthirsty look in her eyes.
"You mean like I can give blood?" I asked.
"Well, if you've gone 5 years or more with no reoccurrence or signs of prostate or other forms of cancer, we'd love to have your blood. You're cured!"
"Well, I'll be damned," I thought. "Not even my own doctor was willing to tell me I was officially cured. Maybe he just likes seeing me every 6 months?"
"Let me think about this," I said, as I walked into the administration building. I wasn't ready to let a woman with a Cheshire-Cat grin, even a good-looking one with a Red Cross insignia on her sleeve, stick me with one of those pipeline-sized needles.
But as I went about my tasks, I began to think that there are sure a lot of people who would love to be healthy enough to be able to give blood, but simply cannot because, well, they're just not healthy.
And here I was, just having been informed, after little more than 5 years from the day I was told I had cancer, that I can be a blood donor.
I thought, "I'm more than a survivor, I'm cured! My blood is as good as anyone's, even someone who hasn't had cancer. Imagine that!"
So, my school business complete and my mind made up, I exited the administration building and walked up the steps into that Blood Mobile and asked, "Do you have any of those T-shirts left?"
Darn it, they did, and in my size too. I had tried to leave myself one more loophole, but even that escape route was blocked. I was officially trapped.
I gave a drop of blood from my finger to test for iron deficiency -- passed that test like my blood was made of lead -- then went through the usual 100 question form with the nurse. When the issue came up, "Have you ever had cancer?" I responded, "Indeed I have."
She asked, "How long ago?" And I said, "Well, it's been more than 5 years." To which she said, "No reoccurrence, no problem, which arm would you like us to use?"
To make a long story longer, I gave blood.
Compared to the feeling that I really am cancer-free, a little needle-stick in the arm doesn't even begin to measure up.
I've actually given blood since then -- with no T-shirt bribery necessary -- about 7 weeks later when I saw the Blood Mobile at our local grocery store parking lot. Doing so, for me, was another confirmation and reaffirmation that I, AM!
April 11, 2002, will mark 6 full years cancer free. Those memories of the diagnosis, surgery, and years 1 through 5 of worry about the possibility of reoccurrence, have somehow been all but forgotten. It's almost as if it never happened.
Oh, I still see my doctor every 6 months. But those wonderful people, who so willingly take my donated blood, now also serve as a reminder that my life is beautiful, reasonably carefree -- except for an occasional needle stick -- and most importantly, cancer free.
For a pint of my blood, a price I'm happy to pay, I hear someone remind me, every 8 weeks, "You're cured."
It just doesn't get much better than that!