I got the call at 2:23 pm. Three minutes later, I hung up. My one-word responses of “yes and huh” did not match the caller’s four-syllable words. By the end of the call only four syllables mattered.
I have cancer.
The diagnosis is B-Cell Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma/Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.
Later that night I called my children. This time I was the one saying the four-syllable words. Words I do not know how to spell or explain. I try to paraphrase. It is treatable. My symptoms are not that bad. My children only hear four syllables.
Mom has cancer.
It has been hard to fill my days. I am exhausted from keeping my thoughts from wandering. I do not know whether to start a project or finish one.
I distract myself by cleaning the house. The house is already clean. Coffee with friends is comforting. Until we remember why we got together in the first place. I go for a walk to clear my head. Except, I come up with every imaginable list of things to do: update the wills, buy extra trash liners, turn the guest room into a recovery room, call my parents.
The shock of first hearing that I have cancer is keeping me from crying. Once I found myself sitting on the bed, looking out the window holding a can of beans. Instead of having “my moment” and letting the tears fall, I shut it off and put the beans back. Life feels like the thud of an unbalanced load of laundry in a front-load machine. I can not just open the door and fix it. That would be a huge mess. It is just a whole lot easier to listen to the offbeat thud knowing that it will only last for a few more minutes. It is oddly comforting. I will myself to hold it together a little bit longer.
My husband keeps looking at me. It is more than love or concern expressed in his glances. I know he is trying to decide if now is the time to say what I need to hear. We are both aware that things are moving quickly. In two weeks times, I went from a CT to a consultation with an oncologist, to a referral to a special research team at MUSC. He has seen the bigger picture.
When I finally understand this, I look him in the eyes for the first since hearing I have cancer. He says what I needed to hear:
To start feeling better, you are going to have to feel worse.
This is all surreal. As much as I want to google all the words, I do not. I have decided to wait to learn all about this cancer with the ridiculous words from my doctors.
So here I sit waiting. The waiting is not so hard. I have peace that God has provided. I have the love of my family. I have the support of friends.
I have cancer.
Cancer is not going to have me.