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The Wait

photo by Ré Harris

photo by Ré Harris

Waiting for life’s next chapter can be exciting, whether you’ve been laying groundwork with a tingle of anticipation or letting things fall into place as they will, like leaves in autumn. That sort of waiting and often the Birthday or Christmas kind, holds a sweetness for me or an umami thrill that has glided me over bits of the road that have shaken my chassis and blurred the scenery for a bit. Sometimes the very idea that the future isn’t written in stone has helped me over times when I’ve been broken on rough road and can’t see much of anything.

I’ve had an immense capacity for waiting, even in dark moments. But darkness intensifies what seems like patience in me, turning it into a grotesque version of anticipation that irritates and provokes like fingernails on a chalkboard, and hurts like lost love.

When the waiting is very dark I’ve sometimes written about it here. Often my capacity for patience and ability to see that light can follow dark has made it seem that I’m saying something different than I am. My poetry especially often says things to people that I hadn’t intended. I’m working on accepting that and on getting better at saying whatever it is I think I want to get out in my writing. Today I’m going to try for bluntness.

Before Thanksgiving, I needed to redo a mammogram. Soon after, I had to schedule a needle biopsy. The earliest date they could give me was December 28th. Waiting for that sort of thing through the time of year I take to heart and usually enjoy at least half of the time, made me feel like I was receding, like I didn’t belong. I took some solace in knitting simple pieces for family with soft yarn, and making cocoa butter/shea butter bars and basking for a while in hopes that the pieces would come out right and be welcome. Mostly my world grated on me. After my post referring to Lincoln, I found it hard to write anything and hard to escape.

The biopsy showed cancer. Monday I go to see a surgeon, knowing that early detection is a gift of sorts. I know this because I had an even earlier detection on the opposite side over twenty years ago. No chemo, no radiation. This time there’s talk of radiation, but I know from years of paying attention and reading and medical shows on TV, that I need to wait for the surgeon to get a look inside and see exactly what’s going on. I know about margins and things. I remember understanding the doctors when my mother went through ovarian cancer even when other family members needed clarification on certain points. I feel pretty confident about my outcome because of all the things I know already.

My N.P. was surprised I didn’t have questions. I won’t have answerable questions until I’m presented with real choices before or after the surgeon has a look. When I get to Monday’s appointment I will want to talk about anesthesia, because the local I had for that first biopsy so long ago wore off in the middle of the surgery. The idea of the smell of cautery in an operating room (which I hadn’t thought of) would have made me sick to my stomach before that. After it, not even the nurse’s rushing to stand behind me, massaging my temples and speaking to me softly as I cried, can soften the memory of the smell and the feel of it.

I hate waiting. I suppose I’ll seem patient while I do it for however long it takes to know that I’m done with treatment and things look good again. However I might look, I don’t anticipate feeling patient.

I have information. I have a good understanding of ‘doctor speak’. I’m immensely grateful for the healthcare republicans think I shouldn’t have if I can’t pay for it myself. I’m grateful for family and friends.

I try to be a grateful person, but I’m not good with hearing how strong I am. (And I’m so sorry now if I’ve pissed anyone off in the past by telling them that during their dark times.) Although I’m grateful for my strength, I’m pissed off that it doesn’t look or feel like what it is when I’m using it. Maybe I’m just pissed off period. I understand that people have gone through and will go through worse times than this one is for me. But whether I get my regular writing mojo back tomorrow or much later, I’m interested now in getting in touch with my inner pissed-off chick who’d rather scream about this, whether anyone wants to hear it or not.

I wrote a short poem on Words One Hundred about how some of Christmas Day went for me (a very nice time for the most part) even though the undercurrent bleeds through even when you’re having a good day. I’ve been trying to begin a post about how to make the cocoa butter moisturizing bars because I remembered to take a picture, but I don’t know when I’ll get that up.

I want to be an artist who throws color at the canvas and only cares that it’s right, not that it’s pretty. I want to write whatever the fuck I want, if only the words would come to me. I don’t want to write about the cancer, but if I think I need to, I will. It’s a part of life; it deserves ink. Mostly I just want to be free to be angry and not hear how positive thinking and glitter ponies will make the road easier. (‘Glitter pony’ being my euphemism for “there’s always light at the end of the tunnel” and “remember God never gives you more than you can handle”, etc.) I’ve got positive thinking covered. My friends know that.

My stuffed bunny is threadbare (yes I sleep with one — want to make something of it?) But if anyone tosses me a glitter pony (and isn’t too young to know better), they better be sure to duck so it won’t hurt when I toss it at their head. I’m thinking of retiring the bunny my daughter gave me so long ago and replacing it with a squooshy brown bear or another rabbit, brown and lifelike, to be soft and warm with me under the winter covers. I deserve that.

And one of those tiny key lime cheesecakes from the Magnolia Bakery that recently went up to seven dollars (that I could eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.) I’m trying to talk myself out of getting only one or the other for this month’s splurge. Because I deserve that, too, despite water bills and taxes and everything else that doesn’t stop coming just because I’m having a hard time.

I’m grateful that we haven’t had much snow here this winter, the streets and sidewalks are clear, and I’m sure-footed as I make my rounds.

I told you I had positive thinking covered.

Now it’s time to roar before the quiet and the waiting allow too much of the dark in. Because there is dark, and I don’t think positive thinking means I should pretend I don’t feel it.

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15 thoughts on “The Wait

  1. Oh Ré. It’s absolute hell not knowing what you’re dealing with, having to wait and worry. Get yourself that squooshy bear and a whopping piece of cheesecake. Wallow in RomComs, sleep at all hours, whatever it takes to get through the weekend and keep yourself sane. I’ll be thinking about you and worrying in my own way—with cheese nips and white wine and laps around the park. Please let us know when you have some news.

    And remember that you are loved.

    XOXOXO

  2. What’s an NP? Some sort of physician? I’ve always found Americans tend to be more clued up on health than Brits but I suspect the fact that you have to pay for insurance has something/everything to do with that.

    I was going to offer to add anything you didn’t know (I used to work in cancer services) but given that you went through it all years ago, you’ll know as much or more than me. The only difference time will make will be changes in chemo drugs as new ones are brought in.

    In the dog-blogging world, one of my internet pals got lung cancer 😦 One of the things I said when she first told people the news, was to get as much info about it as possible. Apart from anything else, if you want to make choices, you need to have the information in the first place. Someone else who had been through breast cancer, said that was the best advice to give anyone.

    What a horrible experience for you at that biopsy. My mother had a similar one when she was having a tooth out. Not the same, but still very traumatic for her as the anaesthetic wore off in the middle of the dentist yanking out her tooth. No surprisingly it was absolutely years before she ever went to a dentist again.

    I do loathe the concept of insurance-based health care. For all its faults and some poor quality in some hospitals (and I’ve suffered from that) I think the NHS is a pretty good service. I hate the idea that people should have to pay for health care. We obviously do through national insurance contributions, but private cover is exclusive. So I read about American women who can’t afford to go for screening programmes, or whose health care doesn’t include certain drugs, while in the UK we’ve had breast and cervical screening for years, and the last I read, the breast one was going to be extended to a younger age range (wrongly in my opinion in terms of cost benefit analysis but I guess it’s a political move).

    No glitter ponies from me. Only that I have an amazing respect for the women I have met with breast cancer, both patients and friends, who show such resilience in the face of something extremely nasty. I used to have nightmares about getting cancer when worked in the health service. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than being diagnosed with cancer and then being treated by people I had worked with professionally – and knowing who was good and who was bad in terms of surgery too. It’s also one of the (many) reasons I moved.

    Anyway if there is anything you ever want to ask, please do. I’ve written about cancer on Clouds from time to time. I spent a fair part of my working life in it, so seemed sensible to share what I learned and add my perspective.

    I wondered why you hadn’t been writing. Now I know, and I’m sorry to hear your news. Just hope you get through it all with as little pain – mental and physical – as possible. That’s all I can say. Oh, and don’t worry about writing about it. I think the more people are open about it, the less stigma remains, because there is still a lack of knowledge and a lot of fear (unsurprisingly) about cancer.

    I’ll be thinking of you, and sending you some good thoughts. May not work, but can’t do any harm.

  3. Dang, that sucks. I’m so sorry. I sincerely hope it goes as smoothly as your previous experience. You are smart to wait until the biopsy is complete. Nurses often ask me if I have questions about medical stuff then they give me zero reassurance and what’s more they’re usually wrong. I’ve read about some pretty great breakthroughs in treating breast cancer via genome research, so I hope that’s part of the general scheme nowadays.

    Thinking of you, Sparks!

  4. I appreciate your raw truth, Ré. You are really remarkable. No glitter ponies from me (at least, not today anyway). I respectfully admire your inner pissed off chick, and the gamut of emotions that you would/could naturally feel with all of this. I am sending love and light from my heart this morning. I hope it lands gracefully. (I wish i coukd send some key lime cheesecake. Perhaps I could just make one and stand in solidarity with you, as I whip love, understanding,and tenderness into it.)

    Please know that I am thinking of you…sincerely and often. In the meantime, yes, “write whatever the eff you want!” Throw the paint at the canvas, dammit!

  5. I was thinking about ‘Entanglement’ the other day, wondering when you’d continue that story. And even though I have been mostly away from the blogosphere for some time, I noticed that you were writing less regularly and thought about you.
    So I couldn’t help tearing up as I read this post Re. Just wanted you to know that you are loved. Big hug! Wish I could send you Amu’s Mr Cuddles. He is the world’s softest, squooshiest bear.
    You’ll beat this. And I’m here, hoping the hard times are over very soon.

  6. My uncle struggled with a rare form of Leyuchemia.
    We wondered if it was something he was exposed to
    in korea because there was no family history of it.

    He never talked about it, but I guess that wasen’t his
    way, he was an avid hunter who surrounded himself
    with heads and pelts – a regular teddy roosevelt. A
    warrior in more ways then one.

    Teddy Rosevelt was sick a lot too he had a lot
    of cronic conditions – but to most he was a shining
    example of the wild american spirit.

    Cancer may be a killer but so are human beings –
    perhaps one day we’ll get that disease once and
    for all. Hang on our mantels, between the bear
    and the lion.

  7. Oh Ré. I say roar when you want to and don’t when you don’t. If there’s some way we can help when the dark gets to be too much, I hope you’ll be able to let us know. And in the meantime, I’m thinking of you and sending love, lots and lots of love.

    By the way, I like the bluntness. To me it doesn’t read “blunt” with all the negative connotations — it reads direct, direct and clear and intelligent.

  8. My lymphoma diagnosis came in on Christmas Eve five years ago. There was a lot of waiting to find out what it meant. Your words brought that all back. You’re not blunt; you’re honest. Consider taking someone with you to the doctor appointment. It was the smartest thing I did. They heard what I couldn’t, remembered what I didn’t, and asked what I’d forgotten. Treatments have advanced so much in twenty years. Ask if you might be a candidate for tomo-radiation. It’s pinpoint radiation so the side effects are lessened. That’s what I had and when I was there, women were there getting the same thing for their breast cancer. So I know it is used on that type of cancer. And you have my email; use it if I can help in anyway. Finally, as always, your writing is so strong. I love this post for many, many reasons, but mainly because of the emotions you stir with words.

  9. Re,

    Thank you for always being honest. From one who has difficulty voicing her truth and requires more than occasional prodding I can honestly say you have my admiration. It is, I feel, an indication of your strength and character, especially for those of us who only know you peripherally.

    Throwing the paint at the canvas can be cathartic and for all our fears at the end result it is often that which resonates…because there is no substitue for truth, in all it’s beauty and ugliness.

    I am truly sorry to hear this and am wishing you the best. You are in my thoughts and although it’s not your thing, my prayers.

    Peace,

    Lisa

  10. Oh, oh, oh. God. Fuck cancer and glitter ponies and not having the words. Like I don’t, now. All I want to do is write swear words, which is not helpful. I care very much what is happening, what happens to you. You don’t have to dwell on it, but I hope you’ll let us know. I wish I could just give you a hug.

  11. Oh Ré, I’m sorry I missed this post when you first wrote it. (To be fair to myself, I had just lost my Dad and didn’t have my head on right). Still, I wish I had read it then to say this is a powerful post filled with so much raw honesty that I love it. I’m not going to throw any sparkle ponies your way (I’d be afraid to) but your words have made me think a lot about a society that likes to push the idea that positive thinking is the answer to everything. Sure, it’s important to be positive, but sometimes it’s just as important to get angry, to scream, and then to go eat the key lime cheese cakes.

    I hope your healing is going well. Know that I’m here.

    ❤ Lisa

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