Sitting in the Regional Cancer Care Centre waiting room was not where I wanted to be today. But it was where I wanted to be. On one hand, it was a place where I would learn news about which “stage” my cancer was in. On the other hand, it was a place where I would learn about which “stage” my cancer had progressed to. Which one of those two alternatives would it be.
I hadn’t been waiting there for long when my husband, Kevin, arrived. He didn’t see me at first – likely not used to my bald head. I waved to attract his attention. He spotted me, smiled, and came over to sit down. “Thank God.” I said to myself. “I can’t do this without you.” I said again to myself. “How was the traffic?” I inquired out loud. What I should have said were the kind words I was thinking, but my emotions were so close to the surface that I knew if I said something I would be reduced to a puddle on the floor once again.
Kevin and I bantered back and forth for a while. The waiting room was quite full compared to our previous visits. That was likely a result of a back-log from Thanksgiving holidays. People were called by number to reception and people were called by name to their doctors appointments. We waited. I was lost in thought when I suddenly became aware of a woman standing in front of me looking at me. I focused in on her face at the same time she asked, “Do you remember me?” I hate that question. As I age, I become less and less able to identify faces from my past. I looked for a long while – nothing. She was young looking with long blonde hair. No wrinkles. No scars. No tattoos. She looked too healthy to be in the Cancer Centre. Nothing. Fortunately she ended my misery of ignorance quite quickly. “I’m Rob’s mom from Collingwood.” Her name was Kathy.
“Good grief! Of course. Oh, my goodness, how are you?”
“I’m well now.” she explained. “How are you?”
“Well.” I began. How do I blurt out to a mother of a student I taught nearly 25 years ago that I was waiting to hear whether or not I had a death sentence? “I have cancer.” I stated.
“I had cancer too.” Kathy explained. “But, after a barrage of chemo, radiation, and surgery, I’m good. Just here for a check-up.”
“Wow. What kind of cancer did you have?” I inquired all the while wondering how appropriate my prying question was.
Kathy explained her cancer to me quite willingly. It was still odd sitting face-to-face with her after such a long absence. We were sharing intimacies of our lives when we had been strangers for decades. It was bizarre.
“Did you lose your hair?” I asked. Her hair was beautiful and cascaded down her back.
“I sure did. Even my eyebrows. I kept my eyebrows until the third treatment and then all of a sudden, they all came out at once.”
I was so grateful for her honesty. It was another Mark and Bea moment. athy was sent to help me through this day the same way that Mark and Bea were sent to help me through the first chemo treatment. She told me her story and answered my questions without hesitation. “Chemo is doable.” she reassured me. “Chemo is very doable. And you will do fine. If you got through the first round unscathed, you should be good for the next.”
“Stacey?” the nurse summoned me.
“That’s me.” I answered.
“Kathy, it was so nice to see you. And I am so grateful that you were here today. You were my gift.”
“You are on facebook, right?” she inquired. “I’ll facebook you.”
“Great!” I responded. “My post today is going to be named after you”
Kevin, the nurse, and I departed. We walked the “Green Mile” or so it seemed to the doctor’s office. “Sorry about the delay. It’s been so busy today because of the holiday yesterday.” Her name was Pam. She was very out-going and I was immediately entertained. Good distraction. Kevin and I had been lead down this road before and the results had been the life-changing pronouncement, “you have cancer.”
“There is no examination today, Stacey, I just have a few questions to ask you. First I need to begin by asking you about your bowels.”
“Well.” I answered. “I can answer that question with an affirmative response. They are good.” I gave more detail … willingly… without hesitation! Cancer removed all humility. It didn’t matter what Pam asked me because I was more than willing to share. The stakes were too high to be too proud. “In fact, my liver has stopped hurting and my one-I-thought-hernia-which-turned-out-to-be-cancer seems to have shrunk. Is that possible? I am almost afraid to be optimistic.”
“It is absolutely possible. And why not be optimistic? If you are feeling better with less pain – that is a good sign!”
And there it was. The tone had changed. It was not the death sentence I had expected. In fact, Pam carried on to report my white blood cell count, specifically my leukocytes (mega-fighters of the immune system) were at levels higher than they had expected. In fact, my blood test from one week after my first chemo were at levels where they would have administered chemo. “You are rockin, Stacey. Your blood looks great. You are good to go for round two. I’ll go and get the doctor now so that he can explain your results of your biopsy and CT scan.”
“How tall do you think he is?” Kevin inquired. And the contest was on. Kevin made his prediction about this “Dr. Russell” and I made mine. It must have been less than one minute when the man of MY prediction walked through the door. I was more focused on catching Kevin’s eye in a “I told you so” moment than I was on receiving news from the doctor.
And then – the time came… the verdict was in. “We can’t tell what kind of cancer you have as the cells have mutated. The cancer is malignant – but you already know that. Your lungs look clear and we don’t suspect your pancreas is involved. So, we will go ahead with the same cocktail for chemo tomorrow as we used before.”
I think I breathed. I think I understood. I looked at Kevin to confirm the news was as I had heard. He was smiling. That was good. So, I smiled too. And I think I smiled for the next hour or two or three… I finally knew my enemy. I knew the weapons. I knew the plan. I knew I had cancer, but for the first time in four weeks, I became slightly optimistic. I think I floated out of the room – down the hall – out of the hospital. Kevin and I made our phone calls to relieved family and friends to a chorus of “yahoos” and “sighs” of relief.
I am ready. I am ready to fight once more. My first batch of steroids are “down the hatch” and the mental preparations have begun. I will look for “Cathy” tonight on facebook.
Funny, once again, how the right people appear at the right time. There has to be some sort of invisible guiding hand that directs us to the support we need when we need it. Today – the hand guided Kathy to me. The Cancer waiting room was maybe not where I wanted to be today – but it was where I needed to be. And afterall, good things come to those who wait.