This week I went to MD Anderson for a follow-up appointment. I am 17 months past the day that I learned that there is no evidence of disease in my body.
I felt different being at MD Anderson this time. I was not anxious for my appointment. I felt much like when I was first diagnosed with cervical cancer: I didn't feel that I looked like someone with cancer.
When people who I met on the plane or the hotel asked why I was in Houston, I wasn't sure how to answer. I am here to go to MD Anderson. Am I a cancer patient? Not really. I'm here for follow-up, so does that make me a cancer patient? I don't feel like a patient.
Looking at other cancer patients as a cancer survivor
There are so many cancer patients at MD Anderson. Some are noticeably very sick. Others look okay, but you can tell they are cancer patients. It's that group of people that that I have noticed a subset. Some look and act miserable. They are miserable, rightfully so.
There is another group of people who are patients in the middle of their battle. They have a bounce in their step. They make eye contact and say hello. They seem noticeably aware of their attitudes and refuse to give cancer an inch.
I think I noticed it one other time, but there were a lot of really sick people this time. I know -- they have cancer, they are very sick. I don't know why it was so noticeable to me this trip.
I texted my friend Barbara about it. It was a comment that I felt I could only share with her. She'd traveled with me to MD Anderson many times during my treatment. She has walked the halls with me so many times that I knew she would understand what I was seeing.
Connecting with a cervical cancer patient
While in the waiting room of the Gynecologic Oncology Center, I chatted with a woman and her mother. The daughter is battling cervical cancer and travels to MD Anderson to participate in a clinical trial.
We talked about changes that we have each made in our lives as a result of having cancer. She was optimistic and confident. She was hoping that day would be her last round of chemotherapy.
We talked about the feeling she gets just getting on the plane to come to Houston. It's a sick feeling that I remember well. For me, it was a feeling that I had never experienced before and haven't since I finishing chemo. It's different than anxiety. It was truly a sick stomach as I anticipated why I was going to Houston. Routines, smells, patterns are all triggers of what lies in store for the next few days.
When I told her that I knew exactly what she meant, she turned to her mom and said, "See, it's not just me." When she was called back to see the doctor, I got up to say goodbye. I asked if I could hug her and she said, "Absolutely," and gave me a big hug.
My follow-up appointment: From nervous thoughts to happy thoughts
As I was sitting on the exam table, it brought back the memories of my first time sitting there when I was extremely nervous. At the time, the only thing I knew to do to calm myself was to pray. My prayer on this visit was shorter as I thought about being in a similar exam room on March 15, 2012.
My thoughts went from nervous thoughts to happy thoughts within a matter of seconds. It was in the exam room that Shannon Westin, M.D., told me that there was no evidence of disease. That was an incredible feeling to hear those words.
After my exam, Dr. Westin she said that she thinks I'm doing great. I got tearful when I heard her say it. It will never get old for me to hear it.
Linda Ryan thought she had checked cancer off her list. Having just run her first marathon, it was hard to imagine that her cervical cancer had returned after seven years. Cancer chose the wrong woman. She was ready to battle cancer for the third time with health, laughter and friendship.