Before you know you have cancer, they run test after test, which usually includes getting blood drawn. While you are fighting cancer just know you will become a pin cushion. You’ll get your blood drawn all the time. And then you think you’re done, but you’re not. I don’t think we are ever “done”.
Today was my 6 month blood draw and bone density check. No big deal, right? It shouldn’t be. I know which vein to have them stick. I’m great at making a fist. I don’t get faint even though I still look away while they fill vile after vile after vile. I can have a great quick conversation about the person’s kids or the weather or their pet. It’s not a big deal. It really isn’t.
BUT IT IS!!!
When I turned into the parking lot and saw the word “Oncology”, my heart skipped a beat or two. When I walked towards the automatic doors, my legs got heavier and heavier with every step. Some days it takes all the courage in my world to walk through those doors. It sounds silly, but in that moment it isn’t funny. It’s terrifying!
Today, I walked through the doors and the sadness hit me in the face. Cancer is depressing. If you don’t believe me, walk into an oncology clinic where chemo is administered. Take a hard look around. It’s heartbreaking. I went to go use the restroom, and a man with a pasty white face, his head smooth, and his eyes sat far back in their sockets with dark circles around them shook his head as I walked by. I understood. I walked towards the one he hadn’t just came out of and I saw that faint smile. That smile was because he said nothing, but he knew in that moment that I knew cancer. Ugh! I hate that I know. He hates that he knows. But in that moment, a special connection was made. A conversation took place without words. We just knew. On my way to the counter, he was walking away. I told him it would get better. He smiled a weak smile. I sighed a heavy sigh. A sigh that seemed to weigh a ton.
I handed the clipboard to the lady behind me. “Oh, no! I mean . . . I don’t have . . . I’m not sick . . . I mean . . . I don’t think I need that.” Cancer is a lot like leprosy was during Biblical times to some people. She wanted me to know she didn’t have it. I didn’t tell that I had had it, and people like her make people like me feel like a “less than” and we aren’t. But then I remembered where we were. She wouldn’t be here unless she was currently involved with cancer in some way. I clenched my teeth, more in anger at myself than frustration at her, and put the clipboard back on the counter and sat down. I watched and listened. Silence mostly. The lady at the desk was flustered over her computer. The man behind me assured his wife over the phone that he would be fine. He could do his treatment alone again. He would be okay. They needed the money. His quiet whisper. His silent courage. His strength. I smiled. And then my anxiety soared as they called my name to check my insurance and pay my fee. The door clicked louder today than I remembered it being in the past. Heavy steps. Blank stares. Quiet conversations. Sniff. Sniff. The fake waterfall of colors.
Hold your head high. Take a deep breath. You are okay. Look around. No, don’t. But do. And another wait. A TV blares in the background. A doctor calls for a patient. A nurse talks on the phone. And we all wait for our names to be called.
They call mine. It’s weird. I hear it. I know they are calling for me. Yet, I’m still sitting there looking at them. They apparently get this reaction all the time. It’s as though they are searching for the shell-shocked person in the waiting room. My eyes locked with hers and in a language we all speak and others don’t, she assured me I’d be okay. I walked over and sat in the chair. I have one arm that can be stuck. The other is off limits. I have a small scar from being poked over and over again, yet that’s the easiest place to stick the needle. She collects the viles with different colored tops, pulls off green stretchy tape, gets a blue rubber-band looking thing and places it around my bicep, pulls out a cotton ball, and opens the needle. I look away. We talk small talk. She sticks me and fills every vile. Pulls the needle out, puts the cotton ball on the tiny drop of blood, and wraps that green tape around my arm. She slowly puts stickers on each vile making me state my name and birthdate once again. “The tumor markers are sent out. They should be back before your appointment. Have a great day.” And I leave so someone else can take my place in that chair.
The walk out is quicker and easier than the walk inside. The air is still crisp, but I am warm. There’s a relief that comes with being out of there. I know that sounds crazy, but it happens. I text Jon. And then, I sit there with my back against the seat. I pray for that blood, those markers, my bones. There is absolutely nothing I can do to make time move faster from today until Monday or anything I can do to change that blood in those viles. I must wait. It’s almost worse than not knowing. The wait makes the brain go a little overboard. It will be over the course of the next few days that I’ll have to remind myself that I’m okay, to breathe, and that the Internet is evil until the results are back. Don’t read anything about cancer until Tuesday. It’s just a weird promise I have to make myself. If not, not knowing can drive a person mad. These results say something we need to hear. “No evidence of disease”, or NED, in the world of cancer. Unfortunately for me, remission doesn’t mean cured. Not yet anyway. It’s this time from 2014-2024 that you hope you only hear “NED” at your appointments, so you can stay in remission and hope that in ten years, they will tell you that you are “cancer free” or “cured”. Those are beautiful words. Words those of us that have walked with cancer hope to hear one day.
But in the stillness of the night when most are sleeping, I find time inside my own head. A verse to mediate and pray about. And this light in the distance that reminds me that the results don’t matter. God holds me close. He always has a plan. It is always good.