When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I wanted to DO something. I expected things to happen in a fast-paced action sequence, like the movies. Instead, I discovered, this “battle” is more of a slog.
Or if it is a battle, the patient is stuck down in the trenches most of the time, wounded and with no clue what’s going on. All you can do is await news from someone with a better view, hearing occasional bursts of fire and wondering what, if anything, has been hit and whether you’re next. You become bone-weary and mud-stained and not particularly attractive. And yet, you’re alive. So there’s that.
It took three days to get the biopsy results that confirmed the mass in my colon was cancer, and another week to get an appointment with a surgeon who could tell us what to do next. Nearly a month before surgery to remove the tumor, followed by six days waiting to find out if the cancer had spread (at first it seemed contained, though we found out a few months later the tumor cells had seeded the abdominal cavity like a spring dandelion). Then, more waiting: for an appointment with an oncologist, for genetic testing results, for my body to heal enough to begin chemotherapy, for the next scan and its results.
The good part about waiting, though, is that it forces you to pay more attention to the present. It makes you realize that what we might think of as the ordinary and the mundane are often the parts that matter most. Waiting is actually just another way of saying living, when you think about it.
As Annie Dillard writes, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Some people start chasing a bucket list when they’re confronted with mortality, and I thought I might be like that, too. I’ve always loved travel and adventure. But I found that dashing off to bungee jump in the jungle or something equally exotic was pretty much the last thing I wanted after my own diagnosis. Instead, I crave as many “ordinary” days with my family as possible. It’s so satisfying when I’m feeling well enough to take my daughter to the playground, prepare her meals, deal with her tantrums, make up stories about her bath toys, and wait in the rocking chair until she falls asleep. (And it breaks my heart when I’m not well enough, and she asks earnestly, in tears, “Mommy, can’t you just try?”)
And now I wait again. I’ve decided not to join a clinical trial just yet. I’ll stay on this combination of chemo and targeted therapy drugs for another month or two, hoping to keep holding the enemy at bay, or even make it retreat. My oncologist’s advice is frustratingly familiar, but sage: “Let’s give it some more time.”
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” -Matthew 6:34