The phrase “I am not feeling well” has been my normal for a while. When I vacuum, that is all I can do for the day. Months go by where sitting on the couch is all I can manage. Terrible pain wakes me in the middle of the night. I wonder if I should go the ER. Exhaustion forces me back to sleep. I promise myself I will call the doctor in the morning. But I never do.
Which doctor should I call? Is it the vascular surgeon who, four years ago, put in a stent to open a collapsed vein? Is it the OBGYN that said “early onset menopause, watch the weight and exercise”? Or is the the physical therapists and doctors that say “it is just aging” but then cut my sessions short because I can barely move? All the surgeries, dieting changes, and strength training provide a few moments of relief. Have I been chasing the wrong things all along?
Walking into the oncologist was nerve-wracking.
We arrive a few minutes early on a pleasant Friday morning. My husband and I enter the waiting room. The lights are low. The room feels cool. No one else is here. The quiet is deafening. All I can hear are the questions I have been ignoring. Have we wasted valuable time? Will my pain finally go away? Have we been chasing the wrong things? I jump when the nurse calls my name.
She leads us to an exam room. I fill out the health questionnaire again. The check-marks make a straight line down the side of the page. No illnesses. No allergies. No medication. No family history.. We try our newly acquired cancer jokes. The nurse laughs along with us. The intake process complete. She leaves the room. How I wish laughter could heal me instantly.
I feel less nervous. I look around the room. Flyers line the walls. Pink breast cancer ribbons on every one. Important phases are in bold. Keep your hair while on chemo. Cancer support groups online. You are more than your cancer. It is all too much to take in. There is no place to look. I can no longer pretend it is just a bad dream. I have cancer.
The tears I willed-back start to flow. I want to look somewhere safe. I ask my husband, “Where do I look?” He says, “look at me”. He reaches for my hand. I stare at my wedding ring. I know this one thing is safe. The oncologist opens the door. I keep my eyes focused on our clasped hands. He pauses. I wonder how often he comes across this scene. The pause lasts a little too long. I just need to look up.
An hour and 15 minutes later my husband and I leave the office. “Unremarkable” describes how we feel. We step off the elevator into the sunshine.
No lifestyle changes need to be made. I have cancer. The next step is to go home.
The movies and TV have lied to us. Treatment takes weeks to figure out. Hospital beds and bald heads are not automatic. Chemotherapy is one treatment that seems to be fading away. Radiation and immunotherapy is much gentler on the body (but still terrifying when you are sitting at your dining room table typing up a blog post 7 days before your first treatment).
After years of waiting months to “see the specialist” things suddenly move at light speed. Before we left the oncologist office he was on the phone with several service providers. Multiple appointments happen in one day instead of multiple weeks. The only slow part is the driving. Video footage of the car rides would be boring. Just me napping.