My cancer journey is officially over, in the most positive of ways. It ended with a round of applause that was both uproariously loud and bittersweet.
I was diagnosed with cancer in 2018 in the Chilliwack ER. The on-call gynecologist came in from the back nine and had a quick look before kindly, plainly, informing me he could see a cancerous tumour. And it was angry.
A battery of tests confirmed and staged me with an advanced stage cervical cancer, throwing me into a vortex of really terrible, awful things. Gynecological cancers and their treatment are gut-wrenchingly cruel.
My battle against ‘The Womb Raider’ eventually slowed down to the requisite six-month visits with my main oncologist. I soared through the last several appointments with flying colours, leading us to Friday.
My oncologist called and said we could end our relationship, as long as I promised her I would see my gynecologist regularly (every six months) as long as we both shall live. What an easy deal.
But that’s when I started to bawl.
I’m not a fan of crying in general, and certainly not at work. I was expecting the eventual divorce from B.C. Cancer, but I was not prepared to have such strong feelings about it. These tears wouldn’t stop.
I was so undeniably happy. I skipped around the office, tears drying on my cheeks.
And then I tweeted about it to my small following of about 2,300 accounts. I added a photo I had taken of myself crying.
Some personal news. I am no longer a @BCCancer patient. I was released from my amazing oncologist’s care today, to go out in the world and be healthy. I cried a lot. Such a relief I cannot even explain. #cancer #NED #survivor #endcervicalcancer pic.twitter.com/TB3q7I6QDc— Jessica (Now In Abbotsford) Peters (@CHWKcommunity) September 9, 2022
As I processed this joy, I thought of all I was leaving behind. That included never getting to meet any of my favourite celebrities as a patient. I jokingly tweeted this out, too, tagging the one-and-only Ryan Reynolds.
For those who don’t appreciate the connection, Deadpool is a Marvel character played by Reynolds. He’s a potty-mouthed mercenary turned love-struck anti-hero after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, and put through his own grueling “cure.” It’s violent and funny, has great music, and surprisingly relatable. I watched it several times through my own epic cancer catastrophe.
So, imagine my shock when I woke up to a private message with a video of the Canadian actor and just pure class act, congratulating me personally - me, Jessica! - on kicking the crap out of cancer.
I screamed. I jumped for joy. I messaged him back. He messaged me back. I was on Cloud 9, and my thoughts went to kids with cancer and how they must feel when someone like Reynolds, or even one of the X-Men like Wolverine, visits them in hospital.
I checked my Twitter again. Because of Reynold’s interaction with my little tweet, my tears of joy of leaving cancer behind had reached 173,000 people. Strangers from around the world have been congratulating me for beating cancer.
I’ve read and liked every single response, and connected with every commenter who has cancer or is a survivor. I’m floored that my unapologetic happiness has grown a thousandfold. I celebrated with a beautiful salmon dinner, champage and a viewing of Deadpool.
But remember I said this ending is also bittersweet?
That same Friday morning, a boy who has become special to me died from his cancer. The tears I cried that night when I learned the news were the angry kind that burn your cheeks.
Ethan Fleming of Chilliwack was hoping to go to Grade 11 this month. He was fighting to live as much as possible despite having cancer for the third time in his life and knowing it would take him anyway. How can cancer be so cruel?
I told Reynolds about Ethan, and he expressed the same universal sadness about childhood cancers that we all feel. And yes there were swear words.
I checked with Ethan’s mom, to see if I could mention him in this story. She found the strength to answer yes. Ethan chose to donate his body, ravaged by cancer, to science. His story is heartbreaking but it’s not over. Research is a snowballing success story and cancer survivorship is outstripping the most recent data, and Ethan will be a part of that.
There are so many families like mine and the Flemings who look to a day when cancer can be stopped sooner. Research will get us there.
While I tie a bow on my cancer, shove it in a box and put it on a very high shelf, I’ll keep telling my story and keep reminding people to get screened.
But for now, I’ll just enjoy this moment.
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