I am not a religious person. Most people know that about me. I've always been this way. Sometimes, especially in these kinds of times, I wish for a fleeting instant that I was a different type of person--a person who could pray, a person who could cry, a person who could just react to things differently than I do. But I can't get away from myself, as none of us can. I know there are some people who prefer for others to respond to events in their lives in ways that they can understand, but I am not one of those people. I would rather people respond to me in the way that I know they would respond if such a thing had happened to them, because when people do that, they are offering you a little piece of themselves.
I have been very...touched?...that seems like much too mild a word--by the response I have received to my posts about my cancer recurrence. The thing that has touched me the most is the way that the KINDS of support and love I have received are such perfect reflections of the people who are offering them. And you know what? I love to see reflections of people.
I have always deeply appreciated the prayers others have offered for me. It doesn't matter that I am not the praying type. What matters is that most people are, and so many of them--many of whom I don't even know--have set aside time to pray for me. To talk to God for me, to get down on their knees and ask for salvation for me. When I hear people say that they are praying for me, I can literally picture them doing it, and the image that conjures in my mind brings a kind of peace and strength to me, as it is borne out of this human bond we all spend our lives trying to make sense of out of the chaos.
Other reactions, and responses, might seem off, but really they're not; really they just allow a window into the person who is setting aside time and energy and resolve for you, or in this case, for me. People have sent me hope for peace. People have held me in the light of God. People have offered me their best magic, their most prolific swear words, their food and babysitting and their company, their best attempts at hiding their true feelings.
I am also intrigued by the responses I have received from other breast cancer survivors. These responses actually vary less than those of the general population. They are filled with cussing, almost 100% of the time, regardless of the disposition of the woman in question. Women who have done this before hear that I am doing it again and say WHAT. THE. FUCK. They say things like "that fucking blows." "What complete bullshit." "This fucking cancer sucks ass." One woman who was sharing her experience of having a recurrence and going through the scans and tests I am doing now said the following to me:
"It's a shit storm. I'm sorry, but there's no other way to say it."
As I sit here waiting--waiting in a way I have done once and hoped I would never do again--to find out a little bit more of my fate, the humanity that I have witnessed in the wake of this bad news is not just a comfort, but a reminder. It is a reminder of what I am waiting to find out--I am waiting to find out if I will have more time on this earth to bask in all the glory of humanity or not. I am waiting to find out if I have a terminal, incurable disease, or if I do not, at least not now, not yet. This kind of waiting is different than other kinds of waiting.
Metastatic breast cancer is incurable. No matter how much we hope and pray and research, that is the reality right now, today. And a recurrence such as mine brings a higher chance of mets. So I have been spending my days scheduling and engaging in MRIs, CT scans, and bone scans. I am most worried about the CT scan, as I have had some breathing issues off and on, and that is scheduled for tomorrow.
Prayers, magic, mojo, crossed fingers, swear words, vibes, and whatever else you've got are much appreciated.
I did the breast MRI and bone scan today. I already know that the bone scan is clear. CLEAR.
There is relief, and then there is finding out you don't have bone mets. I hope you never have to understand the difference.I think every day of the people who do this kind of waiting all the time, and it is not to find out if things are ok, but rather to find out that things have gotten worse. I know I could be one of them--any day now. But today I am not, and that day is important.
These scans are arduous endeavors. They are claustrophobic, uncomfortable, seemingly interminable. The rooms are so sterile, the machines so loud, the air so cold and dry, and then there is this.
You do this alone.
Isn't that true with everything? People say you are not alone, and they mean it. And they prove it as they offer themselves in service. But when it comes down to the final analysis, the real deal, we each have to live our lives and experience our experiences ourselves. No one can take our place, not even those who gladly WOULD take our place.
In those moments, with my body inside a machine that is taking pictures of my insides in order to assess the likelihood of my near-term survival, I recognize the way that we are simultaneously alone and connected.
Someone has to perform these tests. Someone has to prepare you.
Some of these people are very cold and businesslike--I have experienced that before, and it doesn't bother me. Today, though, I had a very different experience. The intake nurse for the bone scan chatted with me for 10 minutes about my childhood car accident. She was so warm and bubbly and aghast, all at the same time. The woman who placed my IV before the MRI joked with me and told me I was skinny and gorgeous and she literally pinched my cheek. In the middle of the 90 minute bone scan, shifts changed, and a new tech arrived. He arrived just in time to take the final pictures of my chest and head. When he told me to move my head to the left, I tried--really I tried--to will away the single tear that fell, the only tear I have shed all day, but I failed. He saw it, and he did me the favor of pretending not to see it; he turned around and began to whistle a tune. I was covered in blankets and lead aprons and my body was inside a machine. When I came out, he was in the back of the room and told me I could get up, so I arose from the machine slowly and stood there in my street clothes. He looked at me, as if for the first time, and then he looked down, as if to say, I'm sorry. You don't look like someone who should be in here. He faltered. Um, OK. You're all done. I will show you to the bathroom.
The first tech who did the bone scan was the same one who placed the butterfly in my arm to prepare the solution to pump into my veins. He told me I had great veins, and I laughed and said that I was always told the opposite, usually when the person failed to place the IV. Then he said, "You should always come to me then. It's not your fault. It's their fault. They just aren't good at their jobs." And we smiled at each other and I began to stare off into space, trying not to think about what I was doing and why I was doing it. This man, who was probably around my age, short and stout, had a quiet, almost a lilting voice. He looked at me and did not look away. And then he said:
"What are you doing? Thinking? You know, you can't change it by thinking about it. Think about something else, something happy."
He was trying to comfort me in the same way that he must try and comfort dozens of people a day, every day. He said it knowing his words were hollow. And yet, something happened.
All of a sudden I began to think about people like him, who do this for a living, and the things they say and do to try to make their piece of the awful puzzle a little less cruel. I started thinking, then, about all the things--all the things.
The way people are, the way they do things, all the people who are
speaking softly, joking, whistling, swearing, buying you a beer, praying, crying, trying their best not to cry, looking away, doing their best to look you in the eye, calling on their best magic, calling out the unfairness of it all, reminiscing with you, reminding you
that this is what you are trying to live for, more of this, all this humanity that you see.
This soft-spoken man said a few words to me to distract me away from myself. And it worked.
Because for hours from that point, I was thinking of something else, even as my body was visible to me on a computer screen as nothing but a collection of bones.
I thought of him, and of all of you, and in my mind, I began writing this.