Man looking at a calendar

Annual Checkup

At the end of September, I will have my annual checkup. This is my 13th. Two years ago, during this exam, the doctor saw “something” and scheduled me for a 6th-month re-check, just to be proactive. The second scope showed nothing, and we returned to our annual schedule. This is the only time Doc has seen anything worth monitoring. I have not had any symptoms or issues, so why am I writing about it?

My most stressful, anxiety-filled month

I am writing about it because this month is my most stressful, anxiety-filled, nail-biting month of the year. This is the start of the month that my wife will be cautious around me. She will watch my moods and be gentler than normal. This is the month when I am most likely to withdraw and shut down, to distance myself. In a word: vulnerable - that is this month. This is my month of vulnerability.

The knot in my stomach

Years ago, I was driving to work. I had just started a new job and was in training. I got on the highway and felt a knot in my stomach, a sense of impending disaster. Three miles later, I hit black ice. My pick-up turned ninety degrees right, then one hundred eighty degrees left. As it came around to the left, it caught air and lifted off the ground rolling over and landing on the roof. As soon as the roof hit, the truck went back up and landed again, this time on the wheels. Every window was shattered. Every fender dented, and the frame bent eight inches on the right corner.

I sat for several minutes and then saw smoke, so I grabbed my thermos and a bag of cookies my wife had sent and got out of the cab and sat on the guardrail, waiting for the police and fire department. I was unhurt. The police told me, from the reports they received, to be responding to a fatality. I offered them a cookie and asked for a ride home. That accident was over 20 years ago, and to this day, on the first snow of the season, I cross that overpass with cautious respect.

My annual checkup brings the same sense of disaster

This story sums up my annual checkup stress. My stomach fills with the same sense of impending disaster, and I become hyper-vigilant of any signs or symptoms. The word I am skirting around is FEAR!

There, I said it. Fear. Crippling, mood-altering fear, and I hate it. Absolutely hate it. Eleven months a year, cancer is something in the background. Most days, I barely think about it, but this month, cancer is my reality. I am not alone in this. My wife knows when my scopes are coming up. My kids were eighteen, fifteen, and twelve respectively when I was diagnosed, so they have grown up with my check-ups. While they don’t know the date, they do know the season and will ask me how I am doing.

Accepting the emotions that arise this month

I am blessed with a wonderful amount of support from family and friends. They keep an eye on me, more so this month than normal. But when I am alone and my thoughts wander, I find myself in a dark and lonely place. The place where uncertainty lives and fear floats across the ground as frost on a chilly morning. There was a time when I would try to push these feelings aside and soldier through - not anymore. Now, I will sit with them and allow them to speak to me. We will talk about them and accept them as honest.

Being honest about my fear and vulnerability

There is no manual or guidebook, no “Cancer Survival for Dummies.” There is fear and uncertainty and joy and laughter. Every year, this month is stressful, but every year this month is more enlightened and honest. For years I would answer, “Fine” when asked how I was doing. The greatest gift this month has given me is the willingness to answer, “Not my favorite month.” To stop trying to get through and just be here. To honestly share with those who check up on me that I am struggling and that I am scared. To empathize with their fears and anxiety. Nobody with friends and family has cancer alone nor survives alone. Everyone who loves you has cancer and survives with you.

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