Step by Step

I love reading, and mystery novels are my favorite genre.  Trying to figure out “who did it” is a fun challenge, but what I especially love about mysteries is that they almost always have a strong plot line and a definite conclusion.  By the end of the book the mystery has been solved, all questions have been answered, and all the loose ends are neatly tied up.  I can close the book with a sigh of satisfaction and move on to another story.  Which, in my opinion, is just how it should be.

Sadly, real life rarely works out that way.  Real life tends to be messy and confusing, with lots of loose ends that may or may not be tied up eventually, and problems that can go unresolved for years.  Reality doesn’t always provide the clear beginning, middle, and end that our favorite stories deliver.  And sometimes our troubles drag on for so long that we find it hard to believe they’ll ever be over.

When we met with the oncologist after my husband’s cancer diagnosis, he told us the schedule for the chemo treatment would be an infusion every three weeks for eighteen weeks.  I went home and dutifully marked our calendar for each treatment, even writing in “done with chemo!” on the last date.  But when I mentioned this to the oncologist at our next visit, he told me that chemo doesn’t work that way.  My husband would have his blood tested before each infusion to make sure he was strong enough to go through the treatment, so there might be times when we would have a delay for a week or so.  He said that the chemo schedule was only a suggestion, and that we would take the whole thing step by step, depending on my husband’s reaction.

It turned out he was right, because my husband actually finished chemo a bit earlier than they had predicted, and we were especially thrilled when early tests showed that he didn’t need the major surgery that sometimes follows.  Unfortunately, later tests showed he did need two surgeries, and both of them resulted in longer hospital stays than anyone expected.  What should have been a nine-month course of cancer treatment stretched into a fourteen months, partially due to Covid restrictions.  And somewhere during all that mess, I learned to stop looking for a definitive schedule and to simply take each day, and each test/treatment/procedure as it came.

Which may explain why I’m having trouble accepting that, as far as we know, my husband is now in remission.  I had thought that the end of his cancer treatment would feel like a victory, with my husband and I toasting each other over a bottle of champagne and exclaiming “It’s over!”  Part of the problem is that cancer doesn’t really work that way, because it’s a sneaky disease that has a habit of rearing it’s ugly head when we least expect it.  My husband will be closely monitored in the upcoming months to make sure all is well, and I know we will be nervous before each and every test and scan.

eW3mn0cBQVebae5TBOD62QBut mostly, the problem is that my husband’s battle with cancer didn’t end with a victorious “bang.”  It has simply wound down, slowly, and on an unpredictable schedule of its own.  And it’s taking both of us a while to give ourselves permission to believe that the worst is truly behind us.  But that’s okay, because we’ll get there eventually, the exact same way we got through his treatment:  one step at a time.

107 thoughts on “Step by Step

  1. I am so happy to hear this part of the treatment has been accomplished. Remission IS a victory. It may not be a permanent one, but a victory nonetheless. Do some living, family stuff, and remember to eat well and appreciate every moment. But you can breath a a little now Ann, and enjoy yourself. Hugs to you and yours.

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  2. Life is a mystery, indeed, but not one that plays by any rules. You have every right to celebrate each and every small victory over that horrid disease. We are happy to hear things are going in the right direction! May it continue. And hurray for the medical science that is helping us. We both send our best. Appears Dave has more than “one card, one card, one card only!”☺️

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    • Thanks so much, Joanna! I remember those fun days of playing cards with you and Al so well. So far, Dave is doing very well and we have reason to hope this is over. And sometimes, that just has to be good enough!

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    • Yes, I think we all want guarantees, but there really is no such thing with cancer. The tumor is gone, and we just have to celebrate that. The odds of it recurring are small, but not zero, so it will take a while before we let our guard down. But we’re learning to just celebrate the victories as they come!

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  3. So sad you are going through all this, Ann, but happy that progress is being made. Just hoping that the step by step continues to be in forward progress. Wishing you many little victories on the way to the big one. Hugs. Allan

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  4. Life is infinitely more complex than a mystery story can ever tell. Cancer is one frightful example. With it, you can never be sure what comes next. As you said, complete victory is rarely happening. Even if victory is declared by the medical professionals, the damage remains after the chemo and/or radiation treatment.

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    • Yes, the doctors are saying the cancer is gone, which is good news. But my husband is still severely underweight, and still has some side effects of the chemo. Plus, there is no guarantee it won’t come back. We just have to be thankful for the good news we got, and to move forward with that!

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  5. cancer is usually a very long slow dance with no guarantees 😦

    I’m nine years past surgery and completely fine but who knows how long that will last … adjusting is tricky, we’d like an all clear but doctors absolutely can’t give that. But while ever we are still breathing we must live each day as our last as that leaves no room for regret 🙂

    Don’t sit and wait, tick off that bucket list!

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  6. I too love mystery novels for similar reasons you have mentioned. However, when the lives of the characters are explored at a deeper level —and these are rarely conclusive— the stories stay with us for long. Excessive plotting tends to sound unreal and is quickly forgotten. That is why the authors keep turning to realist fiction at periods. I am glad the worst of of it is behind your family, and I hope the shadows of the malady never crosses your path again.

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    • Thank you so much! That is what we are hoping too, and the odds are with us. (Not that that guarantees anything, but it does help.) And you’re right about the characters. My favorite mysteries aren’t actually the plot-driven, action-packed, kind. They are the ones with real characters, who address the real issues that all of us face. Usually called literary fiction, they’re the ones I return to again and again!

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  7. So happy to hear all your news is good news, I have ovarian cancer and went thru chemo and two major surgeries – one this year and one last year. I will always have cancer but it is being controlled thru drug therapy. I go in for my check-up and usual testing in two days – I am always apprehensive waiting for the results. But I can say I have accepted that I have cancer and enjoy everyday – it is what it is. I just want to say think positive and know that cancer patients today are getting such advanced treatment and my cancer team is staffed by the most wonderful and sincere doctors and nurses. I’ll include you and your husband in my prayers – get out there and enjoy your lives – they are precious.

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    • I’m sorry you have cancer, but glad that it is being controlled. I think a cancer diagnosis, for us or a loved one, does change the way we look at things, no matter what stage it is. We learn to live in the present and to be happy for the good things that do come our way. And I agree, they are making terrific advances in cancer treatment that gives hope to all of us. Thanks for sharing your story, it is very much appreciated!

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  8. I am so sorry that you and your husband have had to endure these terrible treatments and surgeries, and all of the distress, anxiety and uncertainty. I wish you the very best and hope that you can now return to “normal” life for many years to come.

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    • Thanks so much, Joe! It was trying, but I know that many cancer patients face much more difficult treatments, and that we were lucky that my husband’s side effects weren’t too bad. We are so happy he is in remission and also hope that he stays that way!

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  9. I am awfully sorry that you and Dave have to go through this. It is so hard. Just know that all your many friends, as well as Bill and I are sending their best wishes for Dave to be in great health very soon! Pam

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  10. If only we could live life like a well written book! Most books don’t get as complicated as our own personal lives and if they did the writers wouldn’t make any money as we would be exhausted from reading the first few pages!!!
    Thoughts of continued remission for your husband.

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  11. Life sure can be messy and confusing, but that’s part of what I enjoy about it. Messy and confusing guarantees that there will be some surprises down the road, and many of them are happy ones. I hope all the surprises related to your husband’s disease are happy ones, and that you can increasingly enjoy life together!

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    • Thank you so much! And that’s a good point: if life were neat and predictable, it would soon get very boring. The ups and downs are part of what makes life fun, even if it does get scary now and then.

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  12. Ann, I’m so sorry you and your husband are going through this. I know how hard it is and you’re right, having a cancer diagnosis forces us to completely change our perspectives. Sending warm positive thoughts to you and your family. 💛💙🧡💚

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    • He is still working, and that has turned out to be a real blessing because it does give him something else to focus on. He’s found that the more he sticks to his normal schedule, the better he feels. It helps both of us!

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  13. Beautiful post, Ann. All we can do sometimes is breathe and stay hopeful. It sounds like you’re doing that. I remember we connected about patience. It all comes back to that. There is no planning, as we wait and see. Thinking of you and appreciating your bravery through such difficult circumstances!

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  14. It’s hard to make up what real life throws at a person. A young friend of my son’s has been dealing with cancer for years. Her father died of cancer at the time her sister was also diagnosed. And yet she puts one foot in front of the other with a smile on her face for the world to see. She said she tells herself that right this minute, I’m fine. Such a lesson in mindfulness. I’m always fortified by the integrity of the human spirit. Best wishes to you and your husband, Anne. The cancer diagnosis affects the whole family.

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    • What a brave young woman! Thanks for sharing her story…it helps illustrate how we can continue to live our lives to the fullest, even in the midst of uncertainty. And you’re right about a cancer diagnosis affecting the whole family, because it really does. We’re so grateful my husband is finally in remission, but we’re still sort of processing the past year. Which I’m sure is only natural!

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  15. Sometimes, a journey takes too much out of us, and we emerge cautious and a bit low-key. Even as we enjoy the sun, we learn to look for shadows – not due to pessimism, but because shadows are real and we’d just like to be a bit prepared for them. You and your husband might be stepping a little more carefully now because you realise in a way that many others don’t just how precious life is and savouring that knowing is more important than anything else. I am so, so happy that he is with you and close to your heart. I will remember both of you in my prayers tonight.

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    • Thank you so much! And that’s exactly it: we do “look for shadows” even as we enjoy the sun, because we’ve learned the hard way that shadows exist. It’s not that we’re pessimists, it’s just that once you enter the world of cancer treatment, it become very, very real for everyone in the family. The good thing is that it does help us to remember to live in the moment and be grateful for all that we do have. Thank you so much for your prayers and support!

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  16. I like mysteries too – Louise Penny, a Canadian Author, is one of my favourites. My husband would love to move to the fictional setting of many of the crimes – a place called Three Pines in Quebec… though you have to wonder why there are so many misdeeds in such a small community. Reminds me of all the murders in ‘Murder She Wrote’ set in Cabot Cove, Maine.
    I understand how difficult it is to not really reach an end point in cancer treatment. Our family experienced the same thing with our daughter (leukemia). But that was 29 years ago – we are long past wondering or worrying about something we have no control over!

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    • I’ve hard of Louise Penny, but never tried her books. I’ll have to check them out, thanks! And yes, despite what I thought, there really doesn’t come a point where a patient is declared “cancer free.” (Or at least my husband’s oncologist doesn’t believe in that term, he says it’s a pop culture term that has no meaning in modern medicine.) They just say “in remission” which means that the tumor they were treating is gone, and that no more cancer cells are present. That’s the best they can do, and we just need to accept it. I’m sorry to hear your daughter had leukemia, but hope that she is doing well now!

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      • We were told that 5 years of being ‘in remission’ (or cancer free) would mean our daughter probably was at the same risk of developing cancer again as the general population. We chose to use the term ‘cancer free’ with her because it was the most hopeful and normalizing – which is what a teenager needs and wants.

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  17. Remission is good news, indeed! I imagine you both feel like survivors, after having lived through the months of treatment, waiting, testing, more treatment, etc. I’m glad things are looking up for both of you, Ann, and I pray they will continue. He’s a lucky man to have you and your strength standing beside him!

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    • Thanks so much, Debbie! It’s funny, because the first time the oncologist told me my husband was in remission, I sort of panicked. I thought remission meant that the cancer had faded away, but was certain to come back….I wanted to hear the often-repeated phrase “cancer free!” But he said that doctors don’t really use that term, and that remission means the cancer they treated is gone. So now I know that it is good news indeed!

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  18. Ann, By your description I could feel the anticipation of the cancer journey being over and the hope of celebrating. I wonder how many people you’ve helped just by sharing your story, the real waiting, and what that looks like. Thank you for opening up.

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    • Yes, there really isn’t that moment when you can say for sure, “it’s over!” Because even though the cancer is gone, you can’t help but wonder if it’s coming back. But I know that many cancer patients never get to even hear the word remission, so we are very fortunate. And learning to celebrate each step as we go along!

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  19. We’re doing the same with my Mum’s treatment. What was initially the proposed course and scope turns out to have its own twists and turns. So, now there’s a “final push,” a three day stay in the hospital with precisely targeted radiation. And then that should be that. The celebration won’t happen then (middle of the month), because the process has left her so run down and minimized that she’ll need a couple of months to feel celebratory. But there is that final, relieved exhale. And then, sometime around Thanksgiving, there will be a celebration of the slow and steady return to normal. Hang in there, it does get better. And then there’s the point at which it sinks in–that, for now at least, we’ve tricked mortality into an extended stay–and every little thing becomes so much more precious.

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    • I’m so glad that you have the final push scheduled, even though it is a three-day hospital stay. And yes, the part that no one told us about is that even when the doctors tell you the tumor is gone and the scans look good, you still have to take a lot of time to heal and get over the damage the treatment caused…. Still, each day forward is a return to normal and I pray that the healing process goes smoothly for your mother. She’s lucky to have you by her side, helping and supporting her as she deals with this!

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  20. Taking life one day at a time now will prepare you for the future… My mother at 89 is living fully – one day at a time! I’m very happy to hear that your husband’s cancer is in remission. A toast to better days and a return of joy!

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  21. Wise words. I’m delighted your husband is in remission. I completely empathise that cancer never really goes away – it’s always there in the background and you’re always looking over your shoulder. I send you much peace, healing and positivity ❤️

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  22. Oh my gosh, Ann, I haven’t blogged since December and this is the first I have heard about your husband. Bless your heart. The last I remember, your mom was moving to a better place for her and your dog was having some health issues. Boy, I have been off of here for a while… I like the idea about the books, everything in its tidy place. This is a great post and reminder that things tend to have their own paths and veer around a bit, even if we prefer they stay on a direct route… all my best to you and your husband. Hope you have a lovely day!

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    • Thank you, Jessica! I’ve missed you in the blogging world. And yes, it’s been a challenging year for us, and not just because of Covid. Luckily, my husband is in full remission now…and bonus, my dog beat his heart worm too! So, we’re cautiously optimistic that things are finally looking up.

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  23. Good words, Ann. Cancer runs in my wife’s family. Currently my step-daughter, mother-in-law, & brother-in-law all have cancer, each one different. We have learned what you are learning. Truly, one day at a time. This is more like a jazz session than a classical piece. Blessings to you both. God’s grip – Alan

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  24. I am very glad that the cancer is in remission, and pray that it stays that way. I am sure it is hard to not worry it will com back. I like your next post with the words of wisdom from your grandma. Very wise words indeed. We were in Chicago over Labor Day weekend for our son’s wedding. It went very well and seemed like everyone had a good time. Now it is back to reality and catching up on everything I did not do while we were gone, like reading blog posts.

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  25. Isn’t it funny, Ann, when we think we have everything completely figured out – and if not figured out then we can at least “control” it as much as we can…? NOT! Life has a way of delivering the lessons we most need at the exact time we need it. Not always WANTED lessons…but I think always needed. I can only imagine the way both of your emotions have tried to ride the roller coaster ride. But I can tell that there has been a level of “allowing” the process to be whatever it will be…and I think that is probably the hardest lesson of all. Hang in there…live each day with gratitude (I know you do!) and BE there no matter what it is. Sending lots of good energy and healing light ❤

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    • Thank you so much, Lorie! And you’re right about thinking we’re in control, when we aren’t. We didn’t want to learn the lesson in such a hard way, but we did, and overall it was a good thing. There is so much uncertainty in the world right now that simply “allowing” is a good way to move forward, I think.

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  26. Yes, life is rarely straught forward but I’m really happy to hear your husband is in remission Ann. All we can do is take each and every day as it comes, as a gift, making the most of it and trying not to look too far ahead. Big hugs, blessings and lots of love and warm wishes to you both from afar.

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