Alysa Cummings: Yearly Check-Up

Alysa Cummings, Group Facilitator for LBBC’s writing workshop series Writing the Journey, shares a seasonal excerpt from her recently published cancer memoir, Greetings from CancerLand,  in February’s second submission to Living Beyond Breast Cancer‘s Writer’s Corner.


Yearly Check-Up

Excerpt from Greetings from CancerLand: Writing the Journey to Recovery

Fourteen years later and not much has changed. Not much. Not really.

Starting with the oncologist’s grand entrance.

He knocks twice, opens the door and hurriedly strides into the examining room. His energy speaks volumes (Places to go; patients to see. so many patients; so little time). I am sitting there, a veteran oncology patient, already changed, sitting on the edge of the examining table, a salmon-colored cotton robe wrapped around me.

Welcome to my yearly check-up.Cummings-Alysa_medium

As always, we begin by shaking hands. That’s our ritual. Then it’s my turn to smile and recite my opening line: so how’s my favorite oncologist?

Your only oncologist, to the best of my knowledge, Dr. C replies. There he goes – correcting me, reminding me of our running gag about his need for precision, his attention to detail. In CancerLand, Dr. C is a living legend with hundreds of patients’ medical records stored right in his head.  He won’t take any notes during the exam and somehow never forgets a date, dosage or chronic complaint. Maybe that’s why I’ll never complain about any quirky personality traits of his. An oncologist who’s a bit obsessive is a good thing, don’t you think?

Any lumps, bumps or bruises? Dr. C asks, moving briskly into Act One: The Physical Exam. I lie flat on my back. He modestly opens the gown, uncovering one side at a time, keeping the opposite side hidden, and presses the tips of his fingers in a circular pattern. Then he says the word I’ve been patiently waiting for (perfect) as he finishes with the left side and moves around the table to begin his exam of the right. Twelve years of exams later and like an addict hungry for a fix, I inhale the word (perfect), and savor how good it feels (I’m okay, I’m okay).

But honestly, is this ironic, or what? After all, there might be a short list of politically (and clinically) correct terms that could be used to describe my post-treatment upper body (altered? revised? reconstructed?) But perfect? Hardly.

Does this doctor who deals with so many breast cancer survivors know the impact of his word choice? Or is “perfect” the word this particular oncologist has decided to use with his patients to indicate that there’s no sign of disease? All I know is that perfect is a lovely word, and I can’t wait to hear him say it.

The exam comes to a predictable conclusion with light banter about our personal lives and those acquaintances we have in common, and that’s when I suddenly think of a word that I have to add to our yearly check-up script.

So, tell me, Alysa, Dr. C asks, moving towards the door, ready to conclude the exam. Overall, how was your year?

I’m ready with the perfect answer.

Unremarkable, I say, my year was unremarkable. And I see the doctor cock his head with interest. I have never used this term in our conversations before. Over the years, he has, of course. To describe my CAT scans, bloodwork and Breast MRI results. To report that everything is normal, that there is nothing out of the ordinary.

An unremarkable year, I repeat. No surgeries. I’m hoping that next year turns out to be another unremarkable year. Unremarkable totally works for me.

It certainly does.  And now that I’ve said it out loud, I need to step up to that challenge and day by day make it real until I’m in this examining room again, twelve months from today.

A disease-free reality; in my mind that’s the most remarkable thing I can imagine.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer will host another Writing the Journey Series this Spring, hosted by Alysa Cummings. And the good news is that there will be two different Writing the Journey groups in Spring 2013 – one in Cherry Hill, NJ and one in Haverford, PA.  Check back to the LBBC Blog for more insights from Alysa and future Writing the Journey creations.  You can purchase your own copy of Greetings from Cancerland, on!

15 thoughts on “Alysa Cummings: Yearly Check-Up

  1. I use the word “uneventful”. A quiet year with no noteable events. I’m a metastatic patient, but thanks to an awesome oncologist, a few prayers & great clinical trial — my past year was blessed and perfectly “uneventful”.

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