What do you do when you wait? Text? Read magazines? Go through emails? Talk to someone sitting next to you? Daydream? Draft a to-do list? Worry? The act of waiting is very different than having patience. I remember being called back for my second mammogram. They had seen something on the left side and wanted to redo the test. It was December 20th. I had been traveling a lot and hadn’t gotten to my Christmas cards yet, so I took them to my appointment. I figured I would do something productive while I had to wait. And so there I was sitting in my gown (not a Glam Gown yet of course!) braless, amongst many other women who were waiting. We all know that what’s coming is painful squeezing and everyone thinks, “Why hasn’t there been a better solution to having your breast smashed like a pancake?” (Honestly! But that’s another day for another blog. ) So while I was working away on my cards, a few women teased me about being a bit late on my cards, or commented on how they wished they had brought theirs along. One younger woman, didn’t comment, she was quiet. Finally she just said out loud, “I’m scared. I have a family history of breast cancer and I’m scared because they want me to wait.” Just like that I could see the fear. Standing on that precipice of her life changing forever.
In that moment, I felt for her, but I don’t remember if I felt scared for my self. We have no family history of breast cancer. My Mom died of Pancreatic cancer, but no family members with breast cancer. Maybe I was being too efficient to let the fear seep in. I don’t know. I was trying to make the best of my waiting time.
The domino effect of events began to flow after this one appointment—you know how it goes—ultrasound—biopsy—diagnosis. I went from my Christmas cards to the ultrasound and then a small office where they recommended a biopsy and an appointment with a surgeon ASAP, as it was the holidays. I actually got the biopsy scheduled 3 hours later. They had an opening and they said I could get the results by Christmas Eve. I drove straight to my sister’s house and my husband met me there. We waited. Did I have a glass of wine? Can’t remember. It was all a blur. We went back for the biopsy. The radiologist was firm, from the ultrasound he thought it looked like cancer. I was trying to be positive after the biopsy and he said don’t….I am 70% sure it’s C-A-N-C-E-R.
I got my biopsy results on Christmas Eve, it came back benign, but he didn’t budge. It was weird, family members at the house were celebrating the results, but I knew it wasn’t over. I still had to wait.
Cancer taught me about this strange passage of time—waiting. When you have no control over how long test results take or how long you have to heal before the next step in the process, all you can do is wait. (Side note, after the excised biopsy, final cancer diagnosis and another surgery to clean the margins, I thought I’d roll right in to chemo or radiation, knock it out. ( Ha! That’s a good one!)
What is so different about waiting than being patient is I learned to be present, really to just BE. What would worry or anxiety do for me? What if I let everyone asking me “have you heard yet?” “When will you be done?” bother me? I had to give up control, serious control. Cancer is such a big life event. No wonder so many people change dramatically after it. It tells you THINGS WILL BE DIFFERENT NOW!! Screams it actually. It shakes you to your core.
So, you have to choose how you are going to BE in the face of cancer. Be deliberate, purposeful. Control that.
I’ve taken the phase “I can’t wait” out of my vocabulary. I just don’t say it anymore. Because, you know what? I can wait and there’s much to experience in the mean time.