Two days ago, I found myself in a waiting room with my husband vacillating between irritation (at best) and playfulness, feeling shaky, slightly breathy, and with blurred vision and a lump in my throat. I was disproportionately aggravated by the man, a row of seats over, who was “blaring” youtube clips or somesuch from his phone.
“That’s so rude!” I quipped, and Josh nodded at me tentatively, having already realized that the world — and he — was my punching bag this morning.
“I mean, we’re in an oncology waiting room not…” and I trailed off because I couldn’t think of when it’s not rude to blare video clips from your phone. “There are TVs here,” which were also kind of getting on my nerves, the way they were all tuned into different channels. “Or he could at least wear some earbuds. It’s just so rude!”
And then I looked up at Josh and razzed him about much faster I had done my sudoku, grabbed two word searches from the shelf on the wall, and challenged him to a word-searching duel.
The last word that I couldn’t find was “expect,” and I was frantic to find it before they called me into the exam room. I didn’t know what to “expect.” I have come to realize that we shouldn’t “expect” anything, but I somehow felt like if I could just circle this last word in the search, I could regain some kind of control. Like I might be safer.
Three months prior, inside the exam room, my smiley oncologist looked up at me and said all was well. I had “nothing to worry about.” Then I asked about scanning my left armpit to make sure all really was well.
Upon diagnosis, they were almost sure the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes based on a CT and an MRI, which was very “worrisome,” but lo and behold, when the surgeon got in there, he saw nothing, and the node biopsies were clear. They had no explanation and all but gave me a flick of the wrist as explanation. My oncologist’s fellow once mentioned following-up on this with future scans.
“So the other doctor mentioned doing a scan or ultrasound or something to follow my left armpit,” I mentioned three months ago.
And as if I had been harassing her for scans, Dr. Permasmile said that I “could have this one, but it’ll be the last scan.” Umm, I haven’t had or mentioned one since the week of diagnosis but mmmkay.
So I waited and, really, mostly forgot about it until a few days before the appointment when I started picking stupid fights with Josh.
“Why did you just turn? Grrr. If you would have gone the other way, we could have saved, like, 4.7 seconds!!” or “Why did you bring me these pancakes and coffee in bed? You know I’m trying to eat better, and this is just rude.” So yeah, maybe not my finest few days.
But Josh is cool and grown-up and has better control of himself and stuff. He says things like, “You’ve been so short with me today. I don’t understand why you’re so upset… Oh. Your scan is on Monday.” And he takes the day off when he thinks I’ll need him, even when I tell him I won’t.
I always do.
On Monday morning, I went in for the CT scan, which literally takes, like, five minutes. But those five minutes — going in and out of the familiar tube and hearing the man’s voice ring, “Take a breath. Hold it. And now you can breathe again.” — brought me back to darker times. It reminded me of how vulnerable I am, of how much control I don’t have, of how lonely illness is, of how scared I was last year.
In there alone, it was me versus my body again, and I was terrified. I had no reason to believe there were metastases — I have been feeling better everyday — but I also had no reason to believe I had cancer in the first place. Had I not accidentally felt that tiny, little lump, I could have gone on for a while feeling just fine, I suppose. It was like someone telling me, “Your shoe’s untied. If you don’t fix that, you’re going to die.” Huh? What are you talking about? I feel just fine…great even!
So I prayed and thought of my daughters as the machine did its job, all the while feeling like it was peering into my soul and was about to spill my deepest, darkest thoughts. It had the power to make or break me.
When the technician came in the room to tell me it was over, she looked down at my tear-soaked face and asked, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just nervous,” I answered as I stood up, pulling my shirt back over my head.
“Did they tell you if a doctor was going to come in here before you leave and discuss your results?”
“What?” I replied, reeling. “Why? No. Nobody said anything. Why?”
“Oh, I was just wondering.”
She’s not looking at me. She’s not making eye contact! Why won’t she look at me? OH SHIT! What did she see?
“Do they do that? I have a doctor’s appointment in two hours. I thought she was going to go over the results with me.”
“Oh yeah, that’s fine. Sometimes people want to see someone before they leave. You can go,” she said smiling but not looking in my eyes, according to me.
SHIT. Shit, shit, shit.
Josh and I had almost two hours to kill before my appointment with Dr. Permasmile, so we went to a bookstore where it’s strictly forbidden to scream or shout. (Good thinking, Josh! 😉 ), where I nervously flipped through a People magazine, sent out an SOS on facebook, and unsuccessfully tried not to think of what it would be like if I was rediagnosed at stage 4 that day. What about my daughters?
Basically, I got myself REAL worked up.
I barely think it’s avoidable though. I think it’s a universal cancer experience. Scanxiety is real. Oh, how quickly things can change. One minute you don’t have cancer. The next, you do. It’s just that easy. It’s not within your control.
“Heather? Heather Lagemann?”
My heart raced and I struggled to swallow as my husband and I stood up to see the doctor and hear the results of a scan that had felt like cut me wide open.
NO FINDINGS TO SUGGEST METASTATIC DISEASE!! ::Like, seven judo kicks and a little air guitar:: I mean, PHEW! It was literally like a load off. Walking out of there, I stood up straighter, I felt lighter, and hey look, I’m smiling again. But why wasn’t that girl looking at me? Healthcare workers, eye contact is important. Like, SUPER important, you guys.