Dad commented the other day that the waiting had to be driving me crazy. He said that it would him. Yes, yes, I responded. That’s the hardest part. Not knowing what the next step is and having no control over when I’ll find out. After we hung up the thought that it’s the lack of control, or at least the lack of feeling of control, swirled. There are many things outside of my control that don’t drive me crazy. The weather. Stoplights. The price of gas. How quickly raspberries spoil.
These are all things that just happen and I can’t control any of them, but I can control my reactions to them. I listened to a webinar yesterday that said circumstances have no emotions; your thoughts add those. It was an AHA! moment. Part of me knows that’s true, and it’s why my instinctual reaction to bad news is almost always “Well, that sucks. Now what can I do?” If it’s the weather, turn on a fan or the air conditioning or start a fire. Bring the plants in or plant seeds. Carry an umbrella. Take a moment to breathe while stuck at a red light. Drive a little slower. Make raspberry muffins.
Circumstances have no emotions. I choose – I control – how I feel about them. It’s not easy, especially when it’s something like a pandemic or cancer. In the first instance, we’re directly affected by others’ choices. In the second, I’ve got a disease with no cure but with treatments provided by experts, by others. What can I control?
What can I do?
I’ve been missing travel something fierce. I want to load up a vehicle and drive and drive and drive. I want to sleep in unfamiliar beds in unfamiliar places, or on an inflatable mattress that needs to be refilled by morning. I crave historical markers and random encounters with strangers. I can’t do that right now. I won’t stay in unfamiliar places and my social interaction is limited to cashiers and people we pass on the trail, but there are historical markers near me. I might even be able to fit one more camping trip in this fall, depending on my treatment plan.
And I’m back to the beginning, because right now I don’t know what the next step in my treatment plan will be. I thought it was going to be an axillary node dissection, but when I met with Dr. B. he said they’re waiting on the results from the Oncotype Assay that Dr. S. had ordered. He told me that my cancer is still air-quote favorable. My prognosis is still good. My survivability is, too. He would talk to Dr. S. again and call me by Tuesday with my next steps. Jim and I left the appointment more optimistic than we’d been since I first received the diagnosis. To KNOW I was having surgery and then hearing that I might not rewrote my story. Dread became hope.
Then we got home and opened a letter from the insurance company denying the test. I met five out of six of their criteria. The one I didn’t meet was because my tumor was too small. Yay? That day, however, my new insurance kicked in, so Dr. S.’s office is resubmitting the test in the hopes that this time it will be approved. In the meantime, I wait. Again.
Without surgery, I’d be able to begin radiation therapy. I won’t know what type of radiation until I meet with the radiation oncologist. That meeting is delayed until they know if I’m having surgery, and it might be another week at least before that decision is made.
It is enough to drive one mad.
IF I let it. If I assign emotions to circumstances. One of the main reasons I love to travel, and especially love road trips, is because I’m entirely present. Time expands until an hour feels like an afternoon and an afternoon feels like a week. Each moment has meaning and depth. Each moment is a future memory.
That, I realized, is how I want to live my life every day, whether at home or on the road. I do not know when Dr. B. or Dr. S. will call me. I cannot know until they do whether I’m having surgery or not. There’s no telling when it will be safe to be within six feet of a stranger. What I can do is focus on this moment. Right here. The feeling of my fingertips on the keyboard. The smile on my face as I write, as I do what brings me joy. Last night, it was listening to Mahler and wiping tears drawn by the stark passion in his music, lighting candles, expressing my love for Jim through cooking. Each moment had meaning. Each moment is now a cherished memory.
This realization is a gift. It’s yet another gift from the scariest experience of my life. I’ve stopped calling it “c” and “the interloper.” It’s cancer. It’s not a death sentence, as I’ve been told over and over. It’s a life sentence. A life of choices. A life of now. This is what I have now, today. A sunny sky, a walk in the woods, a loving husband and a moody cat. A full refrigerator waiting for me to create edible art. Words forming in my mind that make it to the page, with intention and joy.
Joy. I have joy.
Am I going to be worried? You betcha. Am I going to be scared? Yep. Am I scared now? No. No, I’m watching the letters appear one by one and they form into something you can read. I’ve known the importance of being present for years and years, but it’s taken the constant stress of fear and the unknown and feeling like I have no control for the last seven weeks that have forced me to stop and acknowledge that living in each moment isn’t reserved for the future. (She says unironically.) It’s not for special occasions. It’s for now. It’s for life.
I’m still going to plan. I’ve got my handy bullet journal with my goals, and they are legion. But even the planning is living in the moment for a list-maker like myself. I dream the dream, define the goal, make the plan, and then I do the most important part. I live it.
Each moment is a gift that’s mine if I stop and unwrap it. Even cancer is a gift. And yes, I’m writing this so tomorrow or the next day when the fear overwhelms I can come back and say “HA! Gift? What are you crazy?” and laugh at myself a little before taking a deep breath and acknowledging that cancer is just a circumstance.