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The Hope Protocol

Protocol: a detailed plan of a scientific or medical experiment, treatment, or procedure

by Dennis “Doc” Knowles

Inspiration image

There are a few million things I want to know before I die. High on my list, Is there life after death? As you can plainly see, I’ve tried to confine my investigation to useful information. There are, of course, questions that are more mundane. Lately, much of what I want to know is about life after cancer.

Recently, I was given the proverbial “Clean Bill of Health.” No cancer in my bone marrow. No cancer in my blood cells. No cancer! Damn. I was just getting used to the idea of living with an 800-pound gorilla in my living room and now … nothing, dead air, silence.

The life I had was pretty much obliterated by the disease, and the life I’ve been living since my multiple myeloma diagnosis has been centered on having and living with cancer. My doctor gave me the news a couple of weeks ago: “Complete remission.” And I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop ever since.

I now have two questions that have been buzzing around in my head like that last housefly of the summer. Annoying, but not annoying enough to go find the fly swatter.

Question #1: What do I do now?
After all, I was perfectly happy with my monthly doctor visits. They were reassuring: “No change. Things look good. See you next month.” (Geez, you think you know a guy, and the next thing you know he’s telling you to come back when you can’t stay quite so long, like maybe next year.) So you report to your wife and kids that you no longer have cancer, and all the kids want to know is what’s for dinner. According to them, they knew it all along. Maybe we’ll get Chinese.

I thought there might be a celebration. A parade, maybe. Fireworks at least. But no. There’s just the quietly lurking, not-quite-sunk-in, happily uneasy notion that I don’t have cancer anymore. Naturally, I don’t trust it: “Are you sure? Do you have the right chart there, Doc? Can’t be!”

I know now that hope is that small space between a dream and reality. It’s like the last breath of night just before dawn.

Just a minute ago, I was in big trouble. Now, nothing? It’s a crazy, mixed-up feeling, and I can’t seem to escape the notion of how ironic and bizarre it is. After all, when I got cancer, my response was “Are you sure? Do you have the right chart there, Doc? Can’t be!” Now that I don’t have cancer I have the same response?

I think I’m getting dizzy. Frankly, I’m a little confused about it. And on alternate days, I’m either thankfully happy or plain grumpy. On grumpy days, I think to myself, “My back is broken in a bunch of places, and my bones are filled with so much glue that sometimes I get the strangest urge to whinny. (It’s an old glue factory joke.) I have broken disks, bulging disks, and my right hip gets finicky once in a while and just stops working. I’m five inches shorter than I used to be; I have no job and no money, but I’m CURED!” On my “thankfully happy” days, I think about ...

Question #2: How did I get here?
I wasn’t supposed to survive. I had a less than 15 percent chance of making it at all. Now I’m cured? How?

I know I prayed constantly. I asked God to save me, and He did. I don’t preach, nor do I go to church, but if you ask me, that’s the answer you’ll get. God saved me. I was very specific. I imagined the cancer to be a flame or a spark, and I asked God to extinguish it. In my mind, I could see Him doing it.

Finally, I had hope. It doesn’t seem like much, really. Having hope. A small thing is hope. I hoped I would get better. I believed I would get better. I did get better. I never gave up believing or hoping. I hoped for the best and came to expect it. I had hope.

I know now that hope is that small space between a dream and reality. It’s like the last breath of night just before dawn. It’s neither dark nor light. That’s where we live, we cancer survivors. We live in the dim light just before dawn. We teeter on the edge of a dream that really could come true.

On good days, I realize how fortunate I am. I thank God. I keep believing, and I keep hoping. Better days are still to come, and lately there are more of those than there are of the grumpy ones.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2009.