Well faithful readership, it’s over. On Monday morning, I finished my final treatment (to the tune of Vitamin C’s Graduation Song, courtesy of my oh-so-funny technician team). I rang the proton center’s Bell of Hope, then my mom and I were on the road. I slept 80% of the 5 hour car ride home, 2 more hours on my favorite couch, and 9 more that night. I think I needed sleep.
So, what now? Well, as far as prognosis goes, things are looking VERY good. The chances of this thing coming back are about 1%. My first follow-up MRI will be in 6 months. If nothing has changed, I’ll say, “Thank you, doctor. I’ll see you in 6 months.” After my second 6-month follow up, I’ll wait another year. So, aside from a couple of extra doctor appointments each year, my life should be pretty normal from here on out. That is very comforting.
If you’re wondering about me personally, well THAT’S NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS. Just kidding. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve either A) spoken to me recently enough to know my plans or B) are a friend of my mother and she has told you ever detail about my life. If you don’t fall into either of those categories, then I’ll let you in. Like the plot of a cheesy Lifetime movie, this year has inspired me to enter healthcare. I want to learn about the body and use my knowledge and skills to help people when they’re at their weakest. Don’t ask me for details just yet, because, well, they don’t exist yet :).
All in all, or in conclusion, or whatever the appropriate phrase is to begin the last paragraph I’ll write for this blog, these past seven weeks have definitely changed me, but it’ll be a little while before I can articulate how. They were marked by some rough patches, but right now I feel excited. I feel like I’ve been given my life back. I’ve been through hard times, and I’ve met so many people going through equally hard, if not harder, times. But these experiences have left me with an appreciation for how fragile life can be, and when I say “left me with an appreciation” I mean they have emotionally scarred me into never forgetting how fragile life can be. At least I hope I never forget.
Thirty-five treatments down, ZERO to go.
Thanks for reading everyone! And for your support. It’s meant the world to me.
Tonight (Sunday) is my last night in Boston, and I’ve never been more excited in my life to head back to New Jersey.
The Hope Lodge has been very good to me, but I can’t say I’m gonna miss it. I’ve had a lot of very good experiences these past seven weeks. I’ve met people from all over the country, I’ve been to Red Sox games and a Bruce Springsteen concert, and I’ve had more cups of “chowdah” than I care to admit, but I can’t say I’ll miss those things. I received great care by my doctor, nurses and proton technician team, but I’m not going to miss any of them either. And I certainly won’t miss the abundance of salmon-colored shorts paired with boat shoes.
There is one thing I will miss though. On a daily basis, I was reminded in a very tangible way of how strong people can be in the face of adversity. I know what I have is rare and in a scary place (my head) and I’m young and all, but what I’ve gone here is a mere cancer appetizer compared to the four-course prix fixe course that some people here have been force fed. These are people going through the toughest situation they have ever dealt with, yet the majority of people here that I’ve met have chosen to focus on the positive. They’re not in denial either. No one’s coming off all twitchy and chanting, “Nope. Don’t know why I’m here. Everything’s a-ok with my bod, yes sirree!” It seems to be a tacit rule: we can’t control the bad but we can choose to focus on what’s still good. It’s something that we all know we should do, but it’s one thing to have that idea in your head and a completely different thing to witness it in action day after day.
Tomorrow is my last treatment. I have 99% odds of never having to deal with this again. Those are very good odds. I feel like I’m getting my life back tomorrow when I leave the proton center for the last time. I can’t begin to describe how pumped I am to be normal again (well, normal by my standards). I know as time goes on, the memories of this place will fade and fade. I also know that I’ll inevitably come across hard times again. As much as I want to forget so much about this place, I hope that when hard times fall again, the memory of this place will remind me that I can deal with anything life throws my way.
Thirty-four treatments down, ONE. MORE. TO. GO.
Numbers 1 and 2 on my list of “Things that got me through this year” are easily my loved ones (yes friends, I love you) and my oft twisted and occasionally funny sense of humor. “What’s Number 3?” you’re probably not asking. Well, the answer is music. Music has always meant a lot to me, stretching back to high school when Thrice just totally got me and addressed pressing existential questions with equal parts power chords, sweet metal guitar riffs and unfiltered teenage angst. I never simply enjoyed it; it moved me. I believe music has the power to inspire. It can make you move. It can make you feel connected when you’re physically alone. It can even make the world feel fresh again when everything feels stale. This year more than any other in my life has made me realize what an important tool – nay, ally music can be. Here are some of the artists and songs that’ve helped me deal.
Early January was filled with car rides to and from hospitals in Pennsylvania, New York and Baltimore. My double vision was at its worst and we still weren’t sure what I was dealing with. It was easily the most frightened I have ever been. Well, I felt comforted by a band called Radical Face. Is it a dumb name? Yeah, kinda. But his music is so emotional yet calm, haunting yet comforting. Here are two of my favs:
A while back, I wrote about how it felt weird to accept charity for the first time in my life. My pride did not like the idea of needing help from other people. My stomach, however, liked the idea of free spaghetti dinner. So in the end I had the most emotionally conflicted pasta dinner of my life.
As the weeks wore on, I started feeling less and less like myself. I was tired a lot, so I interacted less with people. The less I interacted with people, the lonelier I felt. The lonelier I felt, the sadder I became. And then, seemingly out of no where, I felt like Sad Tom. I’m not a fan of Sad Tom. He’s kinda quiet, he doubts himself too much, and he’s WAY too okay with the idea of wearing the same pair of underwear on back-to-pack days. Of course, the descent into my sullen alter-ego wasn’t a straight line as much a series of high and low moments with an average slope of negative Tom.
Monday was a low point for me, and I needed to change something. I thought I could make it the whole seven weeks up here alone, but I knew I needed some extra support this week. I called home to ask Mom and/or Dad to come up a little earlier than planned, and just knowing they’re there for me has made all the difference. I can honestly say that I feel like the Tom I like being right now. And like a pair of boobies, even though I was fantastic on my own, it was nice to have some support when I was feeling low.
Thirty-two treatments down, THREE to go!
Hey all, I’m pooped. Couldn’t stay asleep last night, so I’m heading to bed without writing. Just wanted to say that treatment today was as smooth as the back of my head (which, if you’re wondering, is pretty smooth). It’s almost time to start packing!
Thirty-one treatments down, FOUR to go.
Treatment today was rough. To begin with, it’s never comfortable. I’m strapped to a moving table by a piece of solid plastic that was specially shaped to fit the contours of my face. If you read my first post, you know I freaked out during my first day of treatment. Since then, I have developed a little ritual for myself. Normally I lie on the table and immediately beging focusing on my breath. As my technicians begin fastening my mask, I make last minute adjustments to make sure my neck and head are as comfortable as possible because I know there’s no adjusting it once it’s in place. There were a couple moments when I had an itch I tried to scratch. Big mistake. Now I know better. If I have an itch or a tickle in my nose, I turn my focus to my breathing.
When I’m on the table, my body is not my own. Every day I relinquish all autonomy to my caregivers, the team of technicians. It’s a feeling of vulnerability I’ve never felt before and that I hope I will never have to feel again. Normally, it only lasts about 15 minutes. Today, it lasted 35.
The biggest challenge I’ve faced up here has been maintaining a sense of control in my life. I’m the kind of person that says “yes” to too many things, which is probably a result of doing too much improv comedy this past year. But like Jim Carrey learns in Yes Man [spoiler alert!], being open to life is great, but you have to know your limits. A lot of what I’ve done up here has been me going with the flow for the wrong reasons, namely that it felt too overwhelming to make my own decisions. “Hey Tom, wanna go to a Red Sox game?” Hell yeah. “Hey Tom, wanna go to another Red Sox game?” Uh, sure, I guess. “Hey you wanna go watch this movie?” Yeah, why not. “Hey, wanna come out for a couple drinks, even though you’re tired, you wanted to write and talk to your West Coast lady friend before getting a full night’s sleep for once?” You get the point. I let it get out of my control. Read More…
That’s right, folks. I have just ONE more full week of treatment (plus one next Monday) and I am done with this pub-obsessed (pubsessed?) town. It’s really weird for me to think that in just eight days, I won’t have to think about this silly tumor business every day. It’s been over eight months since this saga began. Eight months is a long time. As sad as it sounds, it’s tough for me to remember what it was like not having to worry about this thing. From the start, I knew this would be a long, exhausting, bitch of a ride, but thinking about that ride before it happened and now going through it are two very different things. But in just over a week, I get my life back. As physically and emotionally exhausted as I feel, I know that everything’s not going to simply click back to normal; the transition will be an experience in and of itself. But as I countdown my final days in Boston, I’m trying to pump myself up for the rest of my life to begin. Pretty soon, I’ll be able to grill with my friends and attempt to recreate the legendary 50/50 burger. That’s right. Half burger. Half bacon. All coronary disease. I’ll get to make more fun, incredibly awkward videos like this one. I’ll start classes that’ll ultimately give me the skills I need to heal people. I’ll get to play music again (though I doubt anyone else in my family is excited about that one!). I’ll get to hang with my sisters, and my dogs. I’ll even get to make more poor life decisions. Yes, I have that much chest hair.
Twenty-nine treatments down, SIX to go!