The Summer of Slow
Dear Friends —
We’re just a week away from the unofficial start of summer, so you may be spending part of this weekend dusting off your lawn chairs or sorting out the fine print of your vacation plans.
You may have a few chores tucked in too. Will you stand in line to buy a new garden hose at the hardware store? Or maybe a trip to Big Five to get your kiddo into cleats that fit their forever growing feet?
As you sit at stoplights or exchange hellos at the park, you might be fascinated to know that a not insignificant percentage of the sweet souls who cross your path will be thinking about their upcoming scan. How’s that for blowing up and otherwise idyllic pre-summer scene? Ha! But hear me out.
Before I got drafted to Planet Cancer, I had no idea that millions of people wander around holding on to a date that sits on their immediate horizon. For me, scans come every 90 days. So when this date is, say, 78 days out, it’s a gauzy reminder that life has a persistent uncertainty. When it’s four days out, nearly every minute is devoted to tending the inevitable mental and emotional anguish that comes with knowing you’re just hours away from the reckoning.
Faithful readers might remember that my last scan was in February and was decidedly a mixed bag of meh. Even though Princess Leia and her laser beams did masterful work on the two itty bitties in my lung, new activity in my lung had emerged. Terrible. But the ever thoughtful Dr K at UCSF patiently framed the terrible with a glimmer of beautiful: the itty bitties were truly teeny tinies, and they appeared to be indolent, my new favorite word of 2022. With a salute to all things lazy, Dr K encouraged me to go off and have a fabulous spring, and then gear up for what would likely be a grinding summer of chemo to keep that worrisome lung drama from becoming an outright horror movie.
What a spring I’ve had. A small sampling of joy: a friend took me on a San Francisco urban hike to show me these magical steps; I celebrated Connor’s 19th birthday with an Orange County breakfast with my mom, just hours after his masterful spring Chapman concert; a trip to London with Lucy and two dear friends; good progress with work, which includes supporting the most remarkable Fellows; a semi-private concert with Sheryl Crow; time catching up with a lifetime friend at a Nationals game; a walk through a Capitol Hill neighborhood I called home in my 20s with another forever friend; riveting books; college visits cleverly disguised as a West Coast road trip with Lucy; tacos in Santa Barbara; honeysuckle scent surrounding my steps for Bonnie strolls.
As another dear friend would say, my spring has had more twirl, and less swirl.
But through all that twirling, I knew May 17 would eventually arrive. My May 17 scan. A scan I knew would show growth (things tend to grow!), but how much, and how fast? This would likely be the scan to close out the twirly spring as I stepped in a swirly and chemo-filled summer.
No scan like this should ever be done solo. And thank God my dear friend Tracy knew this. She flew in all the way from Texas (where she had been packing up her son from his freshman year of college), to hop onto the bullet train of a scan, the results, and the reckoning.
Even while I was still lying flat on the scanning bed, fireworks began. The radiation techs asked me to stay put, nervous glances, a long wait. And then: “Umm. So you need to walk down the hall to see your doctor. Now, actually.”
“Oh. Huh. What’s up?”
“Your doctor will need to tell you.”
“Right. So you all know that I know that I have stage IV cancer, right? I mean if you saw something, that’s more or less why I’m here. We can talk about it.”
“Sorry. You need to talk to your doctor.”
So I nervously left the scanning room, and found Tracy waiting outside the door. “Something bad has happened,” I whispered. “Worse than cancer?” she asked. “I know. How weird. What’s time-sensitive and worse than … oh hold up. I think I know.”
It’s at this point that I think we should all acknowledge that I’ve earned my own little medical degree in the past three years. I can read labs like the best of them, I know the difference between a cavernous and diminutive met. I say “indolent,” instead of “lazy.” When I arrive at my appointments, most receptionist nurses simply give me a “Hiya — you’re all set” and wave me along. We’re *this close* to skipping the hello and opting for a high five instead.
Armed with all of this knowledge, I looked at Tracy and said: “You know what. I bet I have a pulmonary embolism. It’s the only thing that could show up on a scan that’s slightly scary and time-sensitive.”
I was right. Within minutes, I met with a new doctor (sorry — her character in this story is so small we can’t even call it a cameo, which is why I can’t remember her name). She confirmed my diagnosis, and ordered me a blood thinner. Easy peasy. Another bullet dodged.
So we exhaled, slightly anxious about the PE in my lung and found our way to a pharmacy, and then to breakfast, to wait for the scan results. They arrived soon enough.
The headlines: my indolent/lazy itty bitties are bigger, and there are a few more of them. My abdomen remains quite lovely and free of suspicious badness.
So, yeah. More meh. Spring felt like it had taken her last bow.
Like any other brave soldiers, we decided to go shopping. It’s amazing what you say yes to on scan day. We’ll write about it another time.
The next morning we showed up on time for my appointment with my main oncologist, Dr. C, who has been with us from basically day three of the mountain trek. Dr. C likes to get right to it, even though I wanted to spend more time small talking about her cute shoes. “So there’s growth here. We’ll need to make a plan to start chemo again.”
I could write an entire blog post about the next 15 minutes. We explored all kinds of topics — pace of growth, overall good news that I’m feeling better today than I have in four years, how I’m emerging to be a bit of an odd case (which is what doctors say when they admit they’re surprised you’re still alive). But the upshot is this: Dr C said, “You can start chemo now, but given how slow this all seems, you could wait another 90 days. What would you like? A nice summer and a lousy fall? Or maybe you’d prefer to do it now if you have lots planned in the fall.”
Friends, here is something that is categorically true. There is NEVER a good time to start chemo. I mean. How on earth do you make a decision like this? Hmm. Let’s see. Would I rather feel crappy on the 4th of July or sleep through Thanksgiving? Hmm. Is it slightly reckless to let these itty bitties fester for another three months, or maybe it’s better to keep feeling fabulous and have another season to twirl?
I told Dr C I need a couple of days to think about it. So Tracy and I left and for a minute I thought the best idea would be to go shopping again. But instead we packed up Bonnie and headed to the beach for a long walk and talk to weigh all the pros and cons. What a jump ball decision. At one point I looked at Tracy and said, “Maybe we crowd source this? We could put it on the blog and let the people vote?”
She looked at me like I was slightly nuts and muttered something about maybe there being a smarter way to decide. Later on our walk, she asked me this: “What do you think God wants you to do? Do you have a sense?”
“You know what?” I said, almost immediately. “I know the answer to this. God is good with either path here. Which isn’t to say He doesn’t care. It’s the opposite. It’s that He cares so much He’ll be walking alongside me for either trail that I take for this leg of the mountain. In the God department, it’s less about which path, and more about who I’ll become on whatever path I’ve been invited to climb.”
Which still left us with a wild decision. Get after this and a have a summer of swirl? Or opt for a summer of twirl?
After lots of good discussions, including a deep dive look at my scans with another pal who’s quite good at reading lung scans (everyone should have such a pal when climbing a mountain), I thought about my summer. My tall Connor will be home, mostly, and we have an adventure or two planned. Plus this is the summer I’ll teach both kiddos how to drive (don’t ask! I know they are late to this party), and it’s honestly just so delicious to wake up every day feeling perfectly fine. I’d like that not to end, just yet.
How many more summers will I have my beloveds home? They are on the verge of launching into their wildest dreams. These are precious days, these lazy days when teenagers sleep in and nibble on a bagel at 10:30, ready to talk about Taylor’s latest re-record, and whether or not Elon might do something fascinating, or mortifying, in the week ahead.
Who would cloud up those miracle summer days? I’ve decided not to.
When I told work colleagues about my decision and how to make plans for our fall schedules, one asked: “We should call your summer something. You know, like a proper name. It’s bound to be a good one.”
The name is obvious. This will be the Summer of Slow.
I have a lousy health diagnosis: cancer that doesn’t seem to want to quit now that it’s found a comfy couch in my lungs. But there’s a lovely footnote in my medical chart: my itty bitties are slow. They do love their comfy couch, and don’t seem to be training for a marathon anytime soon.
So I’ll embrace the slow the way a koala embraces her eucalyptus tree. Careful, purposeful, joyful. I’ll look around and exchange glances with others this summer, wondering who else is holding a scan date close to their heart. I’ll savor instead of sprint.
And hopefully my itty bitties will do the same. And at the end of the summer, Foxy and her mighty jets will return, and give those lazy itty bitties a reason to run for the hills.
Until then, may we all have more twirl, and less swirl. May we be slow enough to notice the difference. And then give thanks for it all. Especially for the beloveds in our lives.