Another Scare

This room is familiar…the couch, table, the comfortable seating—an attempt at making the waiting room look like a living room. It is nice, and it is comfortable. Even the lighting is soft…the fluorescent lighting replaced with tall lamps with soft lighting. Magazines dot every surface, and the TV murmurs. I play Words with Friends on my phone…anything to try to distract myself from the terrifying prospect of a cancer recurrence.

As a six-year survivor, I know the fear…the pain of surgery, chemo, radiation. I do not look forward to another bout. I do not want this, especially now with my insurance on the brink of termination…starting my own business…working only part time. The timing sucks. And yet, is there ever a good time for cancer?

The thoughts race in my mind: what if I die this time? What if it’s spread? What if they have to remove my breasts? What if… and the list starts over. A few days after my sister’s anniversary of her death, and I’m faced once again with the prospect of cancer.

I think of the mistakes I’ve made…the lapses in judgement and the bad choices: eating sugar, gaining weight, not exercising. This time, I will do it right. I’ll go back to my dietician. I’ll stop eating sugar. I’ll stop drinking. I’ll exercise. I’ll remember that this is a consequence. I’ll remember that my health is my top priority. I’ll remember to stop and think each time I put something in my mouth.

Then I recognize the stages of grief: I must be bargaining. Anger comes next: I don’t have time for this! Cancer again? It isn’t fair!

The nurse comes in and calls me into a private room… shit, shit, shit…but I remain calm and smile. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” she says. “No problem.” I smile. I’m kind, respectful. It’s not her fault I might have cancer again.

“The doctor is pretty confident he’s just seeing scar tissue, and we’d like to schedule a check-up in 6 months.”

“Sure. That works.”

“Sorry you had to wait so long.”

“It’s OK. No problem. I didn’t have much planned for today anyway.” Again, I smile. I feel the relief, but I ignore it, block it from surfacing.

I get dressed, glad to be going home, but feeling the burn of tears just behind my eyes. “Keep it together,” I whisper to myself.

The nurse meets me outside the dressing room and gives me two passes to the movies. Touched, I want to give her a hug, but don’t dare for fear of releasing the tears just beyond the surface.

“Thank you so much!” I say, and I go out to my car, bury my face in my hands and cry in relief and fear. Six months…it’s not that far away, and yet, there may be something evil growing in my tissue…something that can once again change my life.

I need to take a beat…take time to let things wash over me…let myself feel the fear, the relief, deal with the “what ifs,” and then I can move on. I will move on…at least for another six months when once again I’ll be in that tiny room, trying to be comfortable as my breasts are examined for cancer.