My eyes were beginning to blur while looking at a quarterly magazine in the waiting room. I was going to find out the results of all those tests I had been having since late August. Even before the surgery by Dr. Gray in September of this year, I knew already in my heart and head. It had come back. Or, never really left. But I had not had much trouble for almost 7 years.
So, when the post-surgery lab reports came back from Stanford recently, Dr. Yee, my primary care physician personally called me 6:40 PM on a Friday to say he was referring me to an oncologist 30 miles away. He said the oncologist's office would call me on Monday morning to set up an appointment. Dr. Yee soberly said, "You have to go."
So, here I was in the waiting room for the third time, tests all done, waiting to hear just where I stood. Each of my visits here had impressed on me that I was no longer in the minor leagues of ailments. There were some really sick people in this room. Many were wearing hats or wigs to hide hairless heads. Some were in wheelchairs, and no one seemed very energetic. Even the family members accompanying these cancer patients seemed tired—weighted down from the burden this disease places upon everyone close to it.
As tired as I was, I felt as if I didn't belong here. If this were a scene from a bad martial arts movie with a plot more warped than usual; I could single-handedly take on all 20 to 30 people in the room at once. Not like the carefully choreographed scenes where only one attacker approaches the good guy at a time. Heck, I was Hercules compared to anyone here.
When she walked in the front door to the waiting room at the oncology clinic, my first impression was of a very sick middle aged woman. Quite attractive in her day, I thought. Wispy, thinning blondish-gray colored hair, barely covering the sides of her head. On top was a knitted cap, haphazardly placed as if she had been involved in a snowball fight at a family trip to the hills. The big coat, sweat pants and fuzzy booties added to the look of someone trying to keep warm in inclement weather. It was a sunny, warm, autumn day. Short sleeve shirts and sunglasses were more the norm but seemed completely lost to her. Darkness under her eyes and her fragile almost translucent facial skin reminded me of looking at a marble statue. She had a clear plastic tube near her nose hooked around her ears. She was pulling a green oxygen bottle behind her on wheels. There seemed to be a defiant courage in her struggle to pull the small tank over to a seat. She was going to do everything for herself as long as she could. She was followed by another woman in her late fifties and a handsome, slightly overweight but robust man in his mid-thirties wearing jeans and a golf shirt.
This trio's entrance caused me to lose interest in the magazine. The interaction between them as they sat kept my attention. The man was very kind and attentive. The 50ish woman got a paper cup of water for the ill woman who appeared to have an almost unquenchable thirst. Then, it hit me. The woman on oxygen wasn't middle-aged at all. More like, early- to mid-thirties. The man was her husband. The 50ish woman, was most likely there to help her own daughter who was, in my opinion, not long for this world. She still was beautiful, but the cancer was taking its toll.
I couldn't help it, but as I sat watching this loving couple chat, my eyes watered up. A lump grew in my throat. I was looking at a married couple on a journey where they soon would part and go separate ways. One would journey into the unknown; the other would be left behind pondering life and its meaning. Perhaps soon, he would have to explain to little curly haired, big eyed children that Mommy still loves them even though she's no longer there. My observation of the scene was one of those moments when you ask why and consider the eternities.
My name was called and I got up and went through the door—following the nurse who three weeks earlier during a painful procedure called a bone marrow biopsy. That day, she was looking for something in all the cabinets of the room I was in. She said, "This may be your lucky day. I can't find the needles." The doctor told me it would be an unpleasant experience. For 3 weeks I considered showing up all 'liquored up' but what good would that do? The nurse said, "Oh, here they are." She plunked down a big plastic package on the tray. I stared at the hardware she had just exposed. I asked her, "When do they stop calling them needles and start calling them pipe?" I had daintier looking tools in my carpenter's tool box. He was right about it being unpleasant.
Dr. Medhi came in. He sat down and said it was confirmed that I had lymphoma. Fortunately, a low grade or slow growing type. Most likely could be kept under control with radiation and occasional surgery. He said if I had to get cancer, this was the type to have. We both smiled. I knew that many prayers were answered.
I left the clinic that day greatly relieved that although my future health concerns may not always be pleasant, most likely my condition will not shift gears into something faster. I drove back to Modesto and pulled into a KFC for a big Pepsi and a bucket of chicken to celebrate. I didn't have someone to immediately share my good news with in person but I also didn't have to face what that young couple was staring in the face either. I just hope they were able to smile with Dr. Medhi that day too. I sense that somehow their courage made them smile.