Years ago, I was forced to watch the movie Groundhog’s Day in a graduate-level philosophy course. I hated it the first time I saw it in the theater on one of those date nights when my husband and I couldn’t agree on what we wanted to see, and we settled on this one. So while the professor gushed enthusiastically about the various existential questions that the film raises, the philosophical merits of the plot, I tried not to roll my eyes. I glanced at my watch: for the next two hours, I would be stuck in a time warp with the characters as they relived the same day over and over again. I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t like it any better the second time, and I was right, especially after I had to write a paper analyzing the nature of existence based on those repeated scenes. I think I made up some plausible symbolism, offered a reasonable argument, and threw in a few examples. It was not my finest work, but it was acceptable.
I hadn’t thought much about that experience until recently, when I offhandedly remarked that a particular moment felt like Groundhog’s Day. Everybody nodded and laughed. I suppose, in spite of my personal distaste for the story line, the movie was successful since the premise has become part of our society’s common vocabulary. It is a phrase clearly understood by everyone who has heard of the movie.
But this isn’t a blog about that. This is a post about being trapped in a situation that occurs over and over again, one which is both frustrating and frightening. For me, that’s what having recurrent cancer feels like.
Last week, I offered my arm once again to be injected with nuclear dye. I followed the technician into the procedure room where I was instructed to lie on the table with my hands above my head as the PET scan tube slowly enveloped my body. I concentrated on my breathing, and I prayed. And when it was over, and I had returned to my car, I counted the number of times I had performed the ritual since my diagnosis in July of 2017. This was scan number nine.
I waited the requisite number of days before I started hounding my medical team for the results. It is much like taking any kind of high stakes test: the air becomes perfumed with feelings of impatience and anxiety, while hope dominates. In the cancer lottery, there is no potential of winning big. The payoff is sprinkled with terms like “stable” and “low uptake” or “reduced in size.” To hear “no evidence of disease” is a victory, even if the reprieve from worry is temporary. I have only gotten that bit of news twice in the nine times I had gone to lie in the tube. I am now labeled chronic, whatever that means. As I considered my odds. the statistics used to calculate my probable fate, I prayed for the courage to accept whatever the outcome might be. God’s grace is infinite. That much I know.
After a few rounds of telephone tag and several sleepless nights, I got the call. I held my breath as the nurse read the radiologist’s report aloud line by line. While my mind is always aware of the possibilities, my heart continues to be filled with faith. My expectations were high, especially based on my energy level. I felt better. Hadn’t I just spent the past two weeks cleaning out closets and cooking dinner? I took notes as she read, careful to write down the numbers of previously observed areas for comparison. When she described a place of “indeterminate thickening,” I attributed it to scar tissue. After all, I had undergone major surgery just a little over four months ago. But when she paused and prefaced the next section by saying, “these findings are new from the previous scan done six months ago,” my mind began to reel. I have two new, highly metabolic tumors that will require treatment. What that involves, of course, is yet to be determined, but I can make a safe guess.
Like the character stuck in the endless loop of Groundhog’s Day, I am about to embark on an all-too-familiar course of biopsies, bloodwork, and chemotherapy. This isn’t my first rodeo, as they say, and I am not anxious to get back on the bucking bronco. But I also know, that like that same character, I am about to learn something new about myself and my world. I am about to be reminded how precious moments and people are, how valuable time is and how strong I can truly be. I will embrace my days with a renewed faith, safe in the understanding that He who created the Universe watches over me. Always.
Who knows: maybe there is also such a thing as a Groundhog Day outlook, a way to view life as something to be cherished while providing each of us with an opportunity to grow. If we are lucky, we are able to understand that struggles, which often seem insurmountable, may be transformative. Those thoughts bring me comfort.
Certainly, the movie presents the cinematic version of eternal damnation, a curse that can only be broken by a true change of heart, which then results in a change of behavior. (I think Dicken’s tackles the same theme in A Christmas Carol without the tedious repetition, but then, The Bible does it best. And first.) Interesting, isn't it, that we are yet to understand how that which we believe manifests itself in how we treat ourselves and others. Perhaps that’s why we are destined to repeat those lessons.
You know, maybe I don’t hate the movie as much as I thought I did. But chemo? Well, yeah, I do hate that.
Here we go again. Keep me in your prayers.