Note: The following passages are excerpts from Laura Yeager’s chapbook, “Cancer Loot: The Stuff That Helped Me Survive Two Bouts of Cancer in Ten Years.”
I couldn’t wait until November to see my oncologist. I was sitting in Dr. R’s waiting room. It was Aug. 12, 2021. I was there to give her a gift. She was going off to the big retirement party in the sky, and I was early.
The nurse who summoned me was my favorite. She had a quiet way about her, and when she typed my information, she hummed a little song.
But at that moment, she motioned me to the scale. I took off my shoes before stepping on it. I always did this. And if I was wearing a jacket, I took this off too. Sometimes, I even took off heavy jewelry. I hated doctors’ scales. They weighed me five pounds heavier than our scale at home.
“How have you been?” she asked, writing my weight on a little pad of paper.
“Good. How about you?”
“Oh, I’ve been fine.”
I followed her back to a room, where she took my blood pressure, oxygen level and temperature. “Good vitals,” she said.
“Thank you,” I said. Always respond to a compliment with a thank you. My mother had taught me that.
The nurse entered the information into the computer and then asked me about the medications I was taking. I told her that my general practitioner had put me on a new one for low thyroid.
Dr. R knocked on the door. Before anyone could say anything, she breezed in smiling from ear to ear. She knew I was primarily there to give her a retirement gift. A couple of days prior, I’d called her and asked her if my last cancer appointment could be in August, not November. Dr. R had agreed. And she was exceedingly happy because I was one of her successes.
“How are you feeling?”
“What’s this?” she asked, noticing the huge blue box in a bag on the floor.
“It’s your retirement gift.”
“I love that box.”
The blue box was a storage container that I’d purchased at a craft store. It was reusable and useful. (I wanted the whole gift to be wonderful, even the box. It was finally time to return favors, and I wanted the occasion to be perfect.) I’d purchased Dr. R an amazing hand-embroidered quilt, a throw. The blanket had been made in India. It was beige and had gold thread accents as well as little turquoise flowers. I’d wrapped it up in sparkly tissue paper.
“OK,” Dr. R said. “But before we get to that, let me examine you.”
She asked me if I’d gotten the COVID vaccine, and I told her that I had.
“Good,” she said. “That’s one more thing I can check off.”
She asked me if I had any pain. In fact, I was having a bit of discomfort on my left side. I asked her if that might be because of the new thyroid drug.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “Strip and let me examine you,” she said.
I took off my top and my bra. She did a thorough exam of my upper body and chest.
“No, everything looks fine. You’ve had that pain there before. It’s just scar tissue.”
I put my clothes back on.
“What’s your GP’s name?”
“I’m going to send him a letter telling him I’m releasing you.”
She began to quickly type it up.
When she sent the letter, I knew I was free from the cancer life I’d been living for 10 years. If something was in writing, it was somehow more real.
Finally, it was time for me to give Dr. R the gift—my gift. I picked up the bag and handed it to her.
“What is this?” she said. She opened the blue box and rifled around in the tissue. Then, she pulled out the stunning throw.
“Oh, Laura. This is beautiful,” she said.
“Here’s the card,” I said.
She opened it and read my words aloud. “Pair this blanket with toasty socks, and you’ll be warm all winter.”
For some reason, I wanted to keep Dr. R warm. I guessed it was because cancer treatments had made me so cold, but more importantly, because I loved her.
When she saw the tassels on the throw she said, “Ooh la la.”
I knew I would miss her.
“Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome. Are you going to have a big retirement party?”
“Just a small house party with friends and family.”
“Enjoy your retirement. You’ve earned it.”
We beamed at each other.
“All right,” she said. “You get out of here and dance for joy on the way out. You beat cancer twice!”
I smiled at her and said, “All right.”
I couldn’t tell you how happy I felt as I walked down that hospital hallway.
In the lobby, Dr. R’s assistant asked, “Are you keeping your November appointment?”
“No. Dr. R said that the cancer probably won’t come back.”
“Well, call us if you need us,” the sweet assistant said.
And with that, it was over.
[excerpted from “Cancer Loot,” chapter 12]
It’s April 2022, nine months since I was set free. How am I doing now?
I’m extremely grateful to be alive.
What have I learned?
That if a person listens to her doctors and does exactly what they say, she might make it through. That people love me enough to take care of me while I’m very sick, and that is the biggest gift of all. That there is a God and that what doesn’t kill you doesn’t make you stronger.
It makes you bitchy.
My phone is ringing. I’ve got to put a chicken in the oven for my husband and son.
At this rate, we won’t eat until 7:30.
And we’ve all got to eat, don’t we?
[excerpted from “Cancer Loot,” chapter 13]
Laura Yeager is a women’s health writer with over 10 years of experience writing for mental and physical health venues. From 2015–2020, she blogged regularly for psychcentral.com on topics such as bipolar illness and autism. Since 2016, she’s blogged for curetoday.com on the topic of finding happiness after a cancer diagnosis. Her earlier health writing was anthologized in 2012’s “Voices of the Women’s Health Movement,” edited by Barbara Seaman and Laura Eldridge. A graduate of The Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa, Laura teaches writing at Gotham Writers and at Kent State University at Stark. More of her cancer writing can be found at curetoday.com/contributors/laura-yeager. Laura Yeager lives in Ohio with her husband and son.