At first, you wait because it’s probably nothing. It’s not fatigue; you’re just tired because you started a new exercise routine. The bruises? You’re clumsy. Who knows what you bump into on a daily basis? Dressers, beds? You mumble Lonely Island lyrics: “Two words about furniture: killing machines.” You have night sweats because you sleep under too many covers. It’s as simple as that. You’ll wait a week or two, and see a doctor if they haven’t gone away.
You see the doctor. She listens as you describe the fatigue, the bruises, the soaking night sweats. She touches a lump you show her. “I’m almost certain this is nothing,” she says, as you exhale (finally). “With people your age, we very rarely find anything malignant. If it grows or changes over the next few months, come back.”
You wait three months. You come back. You come back with new symptoms and the mood is drastically transformed. You walked into your favorite diner, but now it’s the trading floor of the NYSE.
“You need an ultrasound,” says the doctor. “It feels like cancer.”
“You need a biopsy,” says the ultrasound tech. “It looks like cancer.”
“Like, now?” you say. “But I like this t-shirt.”
The radiologist is already prepping the procedure table. You lay down, cold steel against your skin. The dim lighting and cool A/C are meant to be soothing. They feel like a morgue. Are you already dead? You wait. They jab you with needles and fill you with burning liquid. You go half-numb, maybe. They stab you six times with what feels like a three-hole punch from Staples. You don’t look. Half-numb was an overestimation. You just wait for it to be over. Warm blood rushes down your side – you feel it but can’t see. Without the red visual, It could be anything. Warm honey left out on the patio table on a hot summer night. Ambrosia.
“It’s three days before Christmas,” the radiologist says. “You won’t get these results for about a week, since the lab will be closed. I won’t be giving them to you, either. I have a newborn and my husband and I are spending Christmas with my in-laws upstate.”
Never has a sentence struck you as so patently unfair. She’s not much older than you are. You estimate ten years. You bet she’s 34. Will you be alive in ten years? Will you ever have a spouse, in-laws, a baby? Anywhere to go that could reasonably referred to as “upstate”? “Upstate” sounds like somewhere people play croquet.
You wait by the phone. You wait there day and night. You’re tethered to it. Every buzz, every ring is The Call. You slam the phone down in misdirected frustration when its anything else. You torture telemarketers. “Fuck you, Omaha Steaks. Fuck off and die!”
You secretly hope they’ll call back. This is only the tip of your rage iceberg.
You wait for The Call, and finally it comes.
“You need an MRI,” says the pathologist. “Unfortunately, it is cancer.”
Unfortunately. The word is comically under-equipped for delivering a cancer diagnosis. ‘Unfortunately, ma’am, we’re out of the fish special this evening. You could try the salmon and scallops – both are excellent.’ That’s where unfortunately belongs. It’s just sorry in a tux.
You wait in the MRI machine. Cold contrast dye splits your veins into arctic and tropical currents. Metals clang together. The whole thing sounds like accessing America On-Line in 1998 at a New York City subway stop. You’re on sedatives because fuck this shit. You think, This dubstep concert sucks.
You wait 45 minutes before its over, but it’s never over. Because then you wait for the results. And after that you wait for surgery. And after that you wait to heal, and after that, you wait to begin chemotherapy. And after that, you wait for each cycle’s one-of-a-kind combination of unpleasant side effects to subside. Come on down, spin the wheel – where will you land this time? Nausea? Fatigue? Bone pain? Extravasation wound? Constant, unstoppable nose bleeds! We have a winner!
You wait for your hair to fall out. It takes two weeks. You tug a lot of it out. Then you shave it when the bald patches get too obvious. You wait for a good song to come on. 2Chainz? Eh…you’ll take it. “Hair short, money long,” your friend raps over the words. You wait under the buzzer with your eyes shut. Get it over with get it over with get it over with.
At your next chemo, as you wait for your Medi-Port to get accessed and poison drugs to drip into your veins, you ask your oncologist, “So once it’s all over, what then?”
Her smiling answer has a splash of sadness. Just the right amount of bitters in a verbal Manhattan.
“You wait to see if it comes back.”