Week 21 The “All-Clear”
I got a phone call from my oncologist on Friday to tell me the good news that the MRI scan showed that there is no evidence of disease remaining in my body. I of course initially took this to mean that I was cancer free, but in reality it is much more complicated than that, and “cancer free” is a misnomer. “Cancer free” suggests that I have been cured, and that the cancer will never come back, and that is wrong. Instead, partial or complete remission means that the symptoms and signs of cancer are either reduced, or have disappeared completely, and I fall under the latter category.
Of course, complete remission still allows for my cancer to come back; which is why I will have to have regular check-ups for the next 5 years. A recent study has shown that the re-detection of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) caused by HPV16 usually takes place at either the 3-month scan period, or during physical check-ups within the first 6 months. Cancer recurrence may be local (in my case back in my right tonsil where the primary tumour was found), regional (in my case, back in the lymph nodes that drain the region around the tonsils, and there my cancer had also spread to), and or distant / metastatic, e.g. in the lungs far from the original source. The chances of staying in remission even after 2 years for cancers caused by HPV16 are very high, although this is not true for everyone and personal stories and experiences need to be listened to and remembered, as we are all much more than anonymous data in statistical analyses. Furthermore, the chances of my developing a range of second cancers (unrelated to HPV) because I’ve had OPSCC are significantly higher too. 🥺
But back to the here and now, I had every faith in the treatment, and I never let myself believe it would not be successful. And knowing that this is the current end to a rather unusual chapter in my life is fantastic; things move on, and so must I. And while David and I celebrated on Friday night, we were able for the first time to talk and reflect on the past 6 months without fear of ‘what if…”.
It’s all about ‘what now…’