I tapped my foot and waited for the elevator. That’s how I remember this part of my story starting. Spotify quickly fading into the background and me hopping in. I had that dreaded feeling I wanted the day to be over before I was even at my desk. It was a Wednesday. Wednesday, my least favorite day. Too long since Monday to relive the weekend, too far from Friday to relish the next.
I spent the morning as I usually do- accompanied by the standard 3 cups of coffee I only manage to ever take a few sips of. I’m addicted. Anyone will tell you not to speak to me until I’ve had some. It’s a habit I’ve come to love and it would be the last time I forgot to appreciate something so insignificant. A cup of coffee seems like no big deal until it becomes one of the only things you can choose to do. A simple cup of coffee, maybe my last cup of indifference.
My doctor had called me the night before and I missed it. At first, I thought nothing of it. She’d been attentive as a physician since I started seeing her and I’d assumed it was just a check-in. Routine protocol following some tests I’d had done recently. I’d mentioned it in passing to a friend who guessed the same. I was nervous, but she wasn’t. I said she usually she left a voicemail though. There was no voicemail. Why wasn’t there a voicemail?
On a hunch, I called her back that morning. Reception picked up. Busy. I jump into a meeting. Missed Call. Call back. Busy. I know now that there will be a few distinct moments in your life where you can predict what is about to happen before it does. This was mine. The phone buzzed.
“Kaitlyn?” she said softly. “Are you free to come by the office today?:
Our conversation was just 11 minutes long. Until that moment the only knee-weakening phone call I’d ever experienced was watching them happen in sad movies. The movies got it right. I quickly lost my balance. I lost it all.
In a foggy haze, I grabbed my purse and hurried out of our office. Buzzwords like, ‘oncologist’ and ‘chemotherapy’ kept running around the track in my mind. I remember frantically texting my coworker that I was sitting on the steps of a Starbucks off of Park Avenue quietly hyperventilating. Ironically, one of the best parts of living in New York City is that you can have a full-fledged breakdown on the sidewalk and everyone just assumes SweetGreen got your salad order wrong. In the meantime, I was able to get in touch with my Dad. All I could muster out was, ‘I’m really sick.” I’m sure he’ll never forget that call. I know I won’t either. The haunting memory of two people who have no idea what to say to each other.
The rest of the day is fairly a blur. I went into crisis mode throwing myself down the darkest hole in America also known as the internet. I sat and reviewed worse-case scenarios while I waited for my parents but I hoped and prayed that it couldn’t be that bad. Could it? My 300 square foot apartment had never felt more isolating. Mom and Dad arrived with my brother following shortly after. Family, as often as we pretend that we don’t need them, continue to be the most valuable thing a person can have.
I could finally call back my doctor. We put her on speaker phone and listened to her initial diagnosis. Sitting there, I heard her map out potential scenarios of treatment based on the little information they had. We’d need more tests. There were multiples mentions of survival rates and keeping me alive. All I could comprehend is what I was going to lose. I recognized that I was going to lose a lot, and I wasn’t going to have a say.
We went out for burgers. No one really knew what else to do. This will happen many times, and sometimes it’ll never be right. Now I just try and recognize the kindness in the gesture. I made small cancer jokes to lighten the mood but it wasn’t working. Although we were fully capable of pretending it was all going to be fine, nothing could settle us that day. I looked around the table and I knew that the three of them felt a pain I wouldn’t even understand. The baby, the little sister, the loud one who commanded all the attention was sick. Really sick.
My family left and I called my best friend. I wasn’t sure what to do next. Something I struggled with then and continue to now, is what to share and what not to. The truth is no one understands, but they try, and you’ll need that. You will never need it more in your life. She took it exactly how I expected she would- with bottles of wine and feverishly googling every word of information I gave to her. When she asked if I wanted to watch the movie Step Mom, I laughed out loud. I took my first deep breath of the day and for a moment I understood that although everything was about to change, some parts of me could remain whole. Cancer could not, in fact, take the laughter away.
As this Wednesday finally came to an end I learned the first thing about having cancer. There aren’t many options. Options are things you get to choose from when you want to experience something different. Options are new lunch places and trendy vacation spots. Varying cancer treatments were not options. They were different levels of trauma that you weighed out within yourself, looking for the least painful road to follow. I looked for the path where I could end up actually living. So, I laid in bed, I choose a path, and from that moment on I just whispered to myself- one foot in front of the other.