When You’re Waiting To Hear If It’s Cancer

Chris Sardegna
Chris Sardegna

My suitcase sits quietly by the front door.
She’s a little lopsided, leaning towards the left from all the stuffing and forcing.
I guess she has every right to feel a little full.
All I did for hours was try to fit an entire life inside a dark blue rectangle.

I’ve never known how to pack light,
too much could go wrong,
or right.
I travel as if I’m taking an entire little world with me.
I do not know how to be without it.
A bag for each of my anxieties.
A backpack laced with snacks and my overwhelming desire to see the world,
but also never leave my own comforts.
It’s becoming a theme of mine: not knowing what I want.
But wanting something, nonetheless.

I think of all the things I could need and throw them in:
The sweatshirt with a gaping hole in the sleeve because it smells like home.
A dress I’m not sure fits my no-longer-18-year-old body.
Books.
A shark figurine (come see me about it Katy Perry).
Letters from my father.
A scarf I will never wear because scarves make me feel choked.
A blue wig because what if there’s a costume party or a bar that seems like the kind of place I could wear a blue wig to?
Chargers.
Broken chargers.
Journals that are empty,
and ones that have only a few pages left.
Things.
Nothing that I really even need,
but I can’t be without any of it.

I thought I had cancer once.
The kind of mystery pain that spread throughout my body, radiating in my abdomen.
Waiting underneath MRI machines, afraid to move.
Afraid to think.
When my already petite frame became skeletal because I couldn’t eat any food.
When my extra small shirts hung from my shoulders,
I was sure I was dying.
And even if it wasn’t cancer, I couldn’t imagine living.
Everything was being sucked from me.
Energy,
humor.
I was a walking black hole.
I thought I would die.
But I didn’t.

When I see new doctors, I dread bringing up family history.
“My father died of gall bladder cancer.”
The air will get heavier for a second as they jot it down.
“He also had Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.”
And my mother?
“Lupus.”
“Fibromyalgia.”

Sickness doesn’t seem abnormal to me.
That is abnormal thought.
I do not want healthy to be so foreign, so unattainable.
I mention to my friend my mother is waiting for a biopsy, and her face drops.
Her skin, suddenly ashy, rose-colored glasses explode.
I don’t blink.
I don’t bat an eye.
“My mother gets biopsies all the time!” I say, trying to downplay what I just said.

My suitcase still waiting for me,
I think of something last minute I might need and stuff it in.
Push.
Rearrange.
I think of calling the whole thing off.
People will understand.
Cancer.
I just have to throw down the word cancer and people would understand.

But she calls me, with her nonchalance and voice that soothes me better than any other sound, she tells me what I need.
She tells me the thing I’ve put out of my mind and tried to pretend couldn’t be real.
Tried to convince myself it couldn’t be.

“It’s not cancer. We got the results. It’s not.”

My suitcase is just as full, but suddenly does not feel overwhelming.
I pick it up.
It’s not even heavy. TC mark

Ari Eastman

✨ real(ly not) chill. poet. writer. mental health activist. mama shark. ✨

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