August 20, 2012: My Final Oncologist Appointment

Five and a half years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), to be exact. I went from being a stressed-out-of-my-mind junior year engineering student to a quietly terrified but strangely placid 20 year old cancer patient. It was, and in some aspects somewhat continues to be, surreal.

For the last five years I’ve lived under the fear of relapse, a word which I would go out of my way to avoid using in conversation, even in unrelated contexts. Within the first year out from chemotherapy, the chance of relapse is highest; making it to the second year without incident is a significant milestone. Each subsequent year up until five years is an additional milestone, with the odds of relapse decreasing substantially each year. After the fifth post-chemotherapy year, if your body tests with normal blood levels then you are medically “cured.” For all intents and purposes, the medical likelihood of relapse is effectively zero.

Six months ago we set the five year appointment date for August. On Monday I went to my oncologists office for the last time.

I am cured.

I’m not a very outwardly emotional guy, but I was overwhelmed as I left the oncologists office that afternoon. Down the same steps I’ve walked hundreds of times, often with a face-mask on as to prevent infection in a post-chemotherapy neutropenic state. Into the same garage I parked in every day during the early months of 2007 in order to get my blood counts checked.

Through treatment and interacting with various people via this site, I know how fortunate I am to be able to see today. The last five+ years have been a long, life-altering road, full of experiences and life lessons I didn’t expect to encounter until much later. But despite the anguish, struggle, and negatives of being sick and having cancer, it’s absolutely changed my life in positive ways. It’s taught me to appreciate the moment, to count my blessing everyday, and that there are reasons to keep going when the world appears to crumble down around you.

I’m so thankful for the support of so many people throughout my sickness. I owe so much to the love and support of my mom, my sister and her husband, my family, my girlfriend, my friends, and my church. I owe so much to the diligence and knowledge of my doctors both from U-Penn Hospital and Virginia Cancer Specialists (Dr. Dipti Patel-Donnelly is wonderful) and the number of awesomely patient and supportive nurses I had throughout my hospital/outpatient stays.

I know that many encounter this site at various stages of someone’s cancer diagnosis. And I know they already know that in life there’s never any assurance of a happy ending. But I do want to say that if you’re fighting, keep fighting. If you’re encouraging someone else to fight, keep encouraging. If you’re getting tired, keep going. Cancer is a disease beaten one day a time. If you get past one day soon you’ll get past a week. Followed by two weeks, then a month. Then a year, two, and three years. Five, ten, fifteen years. And one day your doctor won’t need to see you anymore and cancer will become a distant memory.

But you only get there one day a time. Keep pressing on.