And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
This past Monday, I returned to the Cancer Center. For those keeping count, this makes 3 visits in as many months. There was the radiation oncologist in November (just a follow-up), the medication oncologist in December (just a follow-up) and this week, the surgeon (just a follow-up). This is after the scads of appointments in September and October when the spot where the tumor used to be suddenly became hyper-infected, nearly landing me in the ICU, and that came after a rash of appointments in August for a mammogram, the medical oncologist, and the surgeon (just a follow-up, follow-up, follow-up).
The thing that I’m discovering is that being cancer-free doesn’t mean a return to normal life. I am living a life of just-making-sure follow-ups. Which means it’s really hard to put all this behind me because it’s constantly in front of me, just-in-case.
But on the other hand, the really, really big hand, I’m alive.
It also helps that the Cancer Center goes out of its way to be comforting. Every waiting room has a large roaring fireplace, even in the summer, because cancer patients tend to be cold. The chairs are a soft leather, with wide seats and high backs. There is always coffee, and there’s hot water for tea or hot chocolate, and a basket of graham crackers for those who had blood drawn or for if we’re just hungry.
When I arrived, there was a prime chair waiting for me, right in front of the fireplace. I grabbed a cup of coffee and some graham crackers and hunkered down. I’d brought manuscripts with me, so I was soon reading and purple-penning away. But even as I hunkered, I worried. It was a two-whammy worry this time. The appointment was a follow-up on the cancer (is it back?) and a follow-up on the vile infection (is it back?). So as I sat and read and soaked in the lovely heat and free caffeine, the worry-hum sang in my head.
And then it was interrupted by a baby’s cry.
I looked over my shoulder and saw a young mother changing a baby, who was less than a year old. The cry wasn’t lusty. It was my first time seeing a baby at the Cancer Center. I wondered who the cancer patient was, the mom or the baby. So I studied her face.
The worry there? Mama-worry-for-baby face. Magnified.
I turned in my seat and stared straight ahead, no longer seeing my pages.
A baby. Cancer.
The mom walked him around, offering a bottle. He’d take a few sucks, spit it out, cry a little, and then she’d try again. Eventually, she sat down in the chair next to me and sat him up in her lap. The baby and I looked at each other. “Hi, peekaboo,” I said, waving my fingers. “Hi, babybaby.”
And he smiled.
The mom said, “His bottle is cold. That’s why he won’t take it.” Her mouth turned down. “I wish I could warm it. He needs it warm.”
I didn’t ask why.
While there was coffee, hot chocolate, tea and graham crackers, there was no microwave. That’s when I remembered my own mom history. With three kids in their early and mid-thirties and one who is eighteen, I straddle technology. I know the convenience of the microwave. But I remember pre-microwave. And next to the coffeemaker, there was a faucet.
“Take the bottle,” I said, “go to the faucet and run the hot water. Tilt the bottle under it and shake it while the hot water runs over it. The formula will heat up really fast.”
She lit up. And then she looked at the baby.
“I can take him,” I said. “They haven’t called for me yet.”
And so for a few minutes, I had a fellow cancer patient on my lap. One that made soft noises and gave me soft smiles. For those few minutes, I threw every bit of energy or prayer or whatever you want to call it into Please let him be okay, please let him be okay, please let him be okay…
Then the mom came back and as soon as she had him settled in her arms again, he went after that warm bottle like there was no tomorrow.
Please let there be a tomorrow.
But I helped. At least for a few minutes, I helped and he smiled and so did she.
By the way, I came home with still no cancer. And no more vile infection. And no more follow-ups until April.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.