Sunday, January 10, 2010

One Hundred Yards to Go

I distinctly remember a certain monday morning in April, several years ago when I was seven. My siblings and I were gathered at the breakfast table when Mom informed me that on friday of that week, I would be going to Grandma Simmons' house BY MYSELF to spend my birthday weekend with her. Now, you may remember reading in one of my earlier posts that spending your birthday weekend at Grandma's house ranked extremely high on the "most awesome, wonderful things to happen in a Donnelly child's life" meter. In fact, the only instance that I can think of where "Birthday at Grandma's" could be topped was possibly our yearly trip to Cedar Point. It was big.

So it was that monday morning, as I sat spooning Quisp cereal into my seven year old mouth, that I contemplated the enormous, foreboding, five day wait ahead of me. How was I ever going to make it? The week was endless. The clock on my classroom wall became my sworn enemy. I'd spend my days staring at it, trying to will it to speed up. It trudged along. When friday arrived and my bus FINALLY pulled up to my stop on Hawthorne Drive, I elbowed seventeen children out of my way, hopped down (steps took-up precious time) onto the gravel road, and SPRINTED the 100 yards to my house, where I knew Grandma and Grandpa were waiting to whisk me away. I was fast, too.

Since then, I don't think I've ever experienced such a long, seemingly endless week like that one when I was seven. Sure, there have been vacations or events that I've anticipated, but when I have, I'm always reminded of those five days of my youth and say, "At least it's not as bad as THAT time!"

Until now. Because now I have lymphoma, and every six months (it used to be every three months), I'm forced to acknowledge this fact, get scanned, and wait to hear the results. The results can go only one of two ways: #1. Everything is stable. There's little or no growth of the tumors. No treatment is necessary. Or, #2. Your cancer is active, your tumors are growing. Time for chemotherapy.

I will have to have these scans for the rest of my life because I will have this lymphoma for the rest of my life. I can never really call myself a "Survivor" because I will always have cancer. It's just the lazy kind. It could be much, much worse. I know that I'm very lucky. Except...

My appointment and scan are five days away, on thursday. I've been doing this since I got my diagnosis on Worst Day Ever, March 19, 2007 (see earlier post), so you'd think I'd be better at handling the anticipation. You'd think that, but you'd be wrong. I should really feel exceedingly more confident than I do, because all of my previous scans have come back with #1's results. I had one second-opinion doctor that scared me by insisting that chemo was necessary, but my primary doctor disagreed, and I gladly followed her advice. I've undergone no chemo at all so far. Maybe that's why I always get a little nervous before each visit. Here is a small sample of the inner dialogue that will be taking place in my over-active brain over the next five days:

"I think I can definitely feel that they've grown" (said while palpating lumps in my neck.)
"You say that EVERY time and they've never grown."
"I've been too lucky, THIS is going to be the visit where the pendulum swings the other way."
"But you don't feel any worse. That's a good sign, right?"
"But I felt fine when it was forming, too. I ALWAYS feel fine. It doesn't mean anything."
"OK, even if you DO need chemo, it won't be bad. You're tough, you can handle it."
"Sure, pumping liquid poison into my veins will be a blast."
"I hate this."
"How many more days?"

I'm actually a fantastic patient, if I do say so myself. I don't complain when I have to drink the gallons of nasty, vile contrast required before the CT scan. I smile and crack jokes with the phlebotomist as she inserts the IV, even though it's become increasingly more painful each time because that poor vein's been poked so much, there's actual scar tissue surrounding it. I obey all of the "hold your breath," "exhale," and "arms above your head" instructions and follow them to the letter. When they hit the button that sends the contents of the IV bag into my vein during the scan, I don't say a word, even though it makes my mouth immediately taste like metal and for some still unknown reason, gives me the distinct sensation that I've just urinated!

I don't even complain that my new doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital, although brilliant, has the personality of burnt toast, and it terrifies me that if he DOES have bad news for me, he will deliver it with great lack of gentleness and respect. But I say nothing. I remind myself that his brain is enormous and he is THE specialist for my particular form of lymphoma (follicular) and I'm lucky to have him.

It's just the wait. I'm not very good at waiting. I don't remember what I did to make the time pass back when I was seven, but I'm frankly clueless now. I try to focus my thoughts and imagine positive scenarios. I envision "Dr. Toast" glancing down at my chart, casually looking up at me and stating matter-of-factly, "You're fine. No growth. See you in six months. Heck, let's make it a year." Then, I picture Alan and I shaking his hand, thanking him for his time, and driving home. But this time, I ask Alan to pull over about one hundred yards from home. I want to sprint the rest of the way...

Thanks for reading!!


JenTaft said...

I absolutely remember you waiting that week for your birthday weekend with Grandma. I agree waiting is the worst. I think the anxiety of not knowing is worse than actually knowing any bad news. I attempt to use the Scarlet O'Hara tactic, "I can't think about that now. I'll think about that tomorrow. After all tomorrow is another day," with limited success.

Laura S. said...

Yes, waiting sucks. But you are totally kicking cancer's ass. That's both an observation and a prediction. And an order. Love you.

Laurie said...

I think for me the struggle is striking the right balance in these scary medical situations--it's normal to obsess but it's so agonizing that you know it's not a good thing. And then I'm terrified of the other end of the spectrum--ignoring the problem. If I ignore it, it could make everything worse!

You seem to be striking that balance very, very well.

I just came across another blogger's quote, not 10 minutes ago, that might help. I printed it out to put in a little bowl of affirmations I keep on my nightstand to refer to when I need to feel hopeful & confident ....

"The truth might not be elegant. Or symmetrical. But its beauty is in its imperfection. And the reality is that it can change." MelbourneKat at

Joan, thank-you so much for visiting my blog today :-) I've only been blogging since October so I'm quite new at this too. The girl who wrote the above quote, she and I "met" just yesterday. We are both taking an online course about achieving your dreams called Mondo Beyondo. You'll see the badge for the website on both our blogs. You might want to check it out. But, interestingly, both your blogs remind me of one another!--courageous, quiet, powerful, honest & elegantly streamlined. Beautiful pictures too. I wouldn't change a thing.

I'm your newest follower Joan. I look forward to getting to know you and accompanying you on your journey!

Anonymous said...

J --

A couple of weeks ago Mike was leaving Universal with a co-worker who was hobbling out on crutches; she'd blown out her knee. She was being picked up by her husband who not only had been laid off and had been out of a job for months, but was also undergoing chemo for cancer. In the backseat was their daughter.

I don't believe in the irritating adage "there but for the Grace of God, go I" because we're ALL gonna be there someday. Maybe not those exact circumstances or those exact parameters, but "something" is coming.

The way you handle this particular "something" is amazing, regardless of whether you consider yourself a "good waiter" or not. You're funny, you make connections, you don't sit around wasting time whining about how it's "sooooo much harder for you" or how "nooooobody understands my situation" or "yoooouuuuu just don't get it."

You, m'dear, help the rest of us "get it" because one day, "something" is coming for us too.

Keep writing it all down, sugar. You. Are. Awesomness. Personified.

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