Glass Half Empty
I crammed myself into a middle seat, a heavy set lady on one side and a talkative gentleman on the other. It was all too late by the time I realized that my laptop was secured in the overhead compartment. I’m stuck, I thought, and rummaged through my purse to dissuade the talker from launching into a conversation from which I wouldn’t be able to escape. I was on my way from Palm Springs to San Francisco to find out if my deadly cancer is back or if I get another six-month reprieve. Twice a year I have to make these trips, and each time, I find myself clenching my teeth. What if it’s back, I ponder. What if it’s back? “You have a forty percent chance that your cancer will return within five years,” my oncologist told me the morning I started chemotherapy, “and if it does, it’ll be fatal.” Sometimes, “chemo brain” makes my inability to recall information terrifying, but that doctor’s words stuck in my head like bad country music, crappy lyrics playing over and over when I’m trying to think about other things. In the lead up to my appointment this month, I had a terrible premonition that someone in a white coat was going to tell me, again, that I have cancer. Only this time, it would be in my left breast. “We need to take another look,” the technician told me six months ago during my last appointment. She’d hunkered down on my breast with all the force that mammogram machine could deliver, but it wasn’t good enough. They took image after image and kept calling me for more. Eventually, two doctors dribbled sonogram juice all over my left breast and stood wordlessly shifting a wand over my skin. In that silent room, green neon pictures and text flickered on a screen. I felt like a character in a Law & Order opening scene, the dead one, the actress who gets everyone’s attention but doesn’t get any lines. Normally, before these horrible six-month cancer check ups, I prepare myself mentally. I spend extra time in prayer and meditation, and I’m conscious of being gentle with myself and my family. Usually, I tell close friends that my appointment is coming up so I won’t feel isolated when it’s time to make the trip. I try to take better care of myself physically, too, by getting enough sleep and choosing healthy food. This time around, though, I ignored all that wisdom. The few times I tried to feel a spiritual connection, I was left empty, and I didn’t bother to keep trying. I chose to overload myself with too much work, and I didn’t reach out to friends who would have been there for me. By the time I shimmied into a tasteless hospital gown, it was hard to hold back tears. I’m sick of cancer, the what if’s, the intimate questions strangers ask me, the miserable squashing of my breasts. I’m weary of the travel, the expense, the parking meters, and the worry. Nearly every week, I find and write about a positive aspect of my journey with cancer. I’m grateful for the kindness and expertise this path has laid bare. Cancer has taught me to treasure each day and to look for beauty in the mundane. I’ve forgiven myself and others and am more open and loving because of my brush with death. Cancer delivers beautiful lessons with a sense of urgency and abandon, and I have been a faithful student. This week, though, I ignored all I’ve learned and did a free fall instead into a pool of worry, anger, anxiety, and isolation. As my husband pointed out, my panties were in a bunch. I’m back home now and my appointment is over. I didn’t get a new cancer diagnosis and I didn’t get a parking ticket. But I did get another lesson: it’s hard to practice what I preach, even when I’m preaching to myself.