Last Monday at 8:00 am, I had my six month checkup with my oncologist.
I usually schedule those appointments early in the morning, because I am nervous and like to get them over with as soon as possible.
I often have trouble sleeping the night before.
Most of the time I am busy with my life and give little thought to cancer. But exam days bring back memories of what my family and I went through five years ago, and those memories are still very painful.
I get up at 5:30 am that Monday morning, so I have time to get ready in a leisurely fashion, and to be alone with my thoughts.
I take a shower, eat some yogurt with fruit, and drink a cup of coffee.
I wake Sam up and make him breakfast.
I do everything slowly and deliberately.
I say goodbye to Jeff and Sam and drive to the hospital.
It is a beautiful, warm spring day, fog clouds colliding with rays of sun. I don’t turn on the radio, I want nothing to distract my thoughts.
I enjoy the moment and my own company.
I park the car at the far end of the parking lot, and unwillingly walk to the entrance of the hospital. When I finally enter through the wide doors, the smell of illness and disinfectant make me swoon with nausea.
This always happens.
Chemo has chiseled into my psyche this unthinking antipathy to the very essence of this place.
I cannot explain to my senses that this is a place of healing – my body is reacting with instinctive self protection.
The lab, the chemo room and the doctor’s offices are in close proximity. I enter the lab to have my blood drawn. The new lab technician has not seem my veins before, and it takes her several tries to find the vein that works.
But I am happy. I am done with the poking and the pain, and now I will go wait for my oncologist.
I have a few minutes, so I go to the chemo room to say hello to the nurses. Every time I come, I stop to see them – even after five years they recognize and greet me. They look busy, tired, harried. It’s not even eight in the morning and already the waiting room is full of patients. Older people, middle aged, and some surprisingly young.
I feel a mixture of guilt and relief.
I feel sorry for the teenage boy sitting in the recliner, his head leaned back as though his neck cannot support it, his eyes void. His mother is sitting next to him, holding his hand, reading aloud. I want to go and hug them both.
But, instead, I exit the room.
I hold a magazine on my lap while waiting for my doctor, but I don’t read it. No one does. The waiting room is crowded but very quiet. Everyone is thinking about other things, other places.
The nurse calls my name and I go in. She weighs me, takes my temperature, checks my blood pressure and pulse. Then I am left alone in the small exam room. It is the same room, the same flowery poster on the wall, that I spent countless hours in five yours ago.
I try to meditate, but this place is hard to escape.
My doctor comes in and instantly tells me that all looks well. He knows how frightened and worried his patients are and he tries to bring reassurance instantly. He is a kind and compassionate man, and I notice that his hair has grown grayer and his face has aged. How hard it must be for him to spend so much time here! He asks me how I feel, about my children, about Jeff. He tells me about his two girls. Our children share the same piano teacher and we run into each other at piano recitals.
All this time, he is examining me, looking for anything suspicious. Innocent conversation, but his concentration is serous and deep.
All the while, I look into his eyes.
He tells me that I look healthy, no sign of cancer. He tells me that I won’t need to come in six months, I can come in a year.
A whole year!
We look at each other and shake hands. As I walk out, I am sorry to leave him behind. I want to take my kind doctor, all the sweet nurses and tired patients with me into the sunny spring morning.
But instead, I slowly walk to my car and turn on the radio. I am ready to return to this world.