It couldn’t just be simple.
Every time the phone rings and it says Private Caller, I panic. I suspect I’ll have this Pavlovian response for the rest of my life. (The rest of my life... but that's another story.)
Today it was the sweet nurse-like intern from last week's great news in the shitty news department - GNISND - day, calling to tell me I need an MRI. He didn’t want to panic me by simply ordering it, and letting just anyone call to book a scan I’d previously been told I didn’t need. Better to panic me by calling with the information that drove him to make the request. That was the humane choice.
“We’ve found something in your face.”
“What do you mean you've found something in my face?”
It’s a mass (I hate that fucking word), west of my nose, north of my palate, around the corner from my cheek – there were technical words I didn’t recognize, or bother to jot down. In these moments of shock, I’m somehow incapable of conjuring in my mind's eye the basic body parts I’ve been familiar with since nursery school.
The MRI will rule out anything else, and define the parameters of the new offender. The new mass. He moved on to questions about headaches and eyesight and sinus pain, none of which I’d been feeling until the second he began asking me about them. He talked about a biopsy, and I went directly to pointy objects rammed up my nose.
I had no note taker. No one by my side. There was only me, alone at the kitchen table trying to comprehend what he was saying.
"We believe it’s the same thing as the other mass, a very slow-growing Lymphoma.” Belief can be a powerful word in the right context, but me and my cancer: we think it’s wishy washy.
“Do you know that for sure?”
That’s one of those lose-lose questions. Of course he doesn’t.
“Can you tell me I don’t have a brain tumour?” (Another set up.)
He’s kind to add the but. But at the moment all I hear is possibility.
The good news is the rest of the scans are clear. There’s nothing in my chest. Feeling desperate, I pitch questions into what he clearly perceives as left field. But it’s not his face is it? He keeps pushing the head/face distinction, steering me away from my brain. I ask if they can blind me with the radiation. He says no.
I crawl back toward the rational and ask about timing for the MRI, appointments, ear nose and throat opinions.
“Why is it all taking so long?”
“We want to take our time and do the best job assessing exactly what needs to be done.”
Our time? It’s my fucking time. I’ll be spending every hour of every day on my cancer. They, I expect, will be focused on more urgent cases. Basically, he’s telling me there’s no big rush. And if I’m not deluded enough to believe a significant chunk of time will be spent contemplating my lymphatic system, then at least I should see this as some (fucked up) version of good news – and chill a bit.
Anyone who knows me, knows I don’t really do chill. I’d like to be the person that kindly waves at those with more athletic tumours, as they move to the front of the line, but this is my only body and it’s under siege by terrorists – indolent (supposedly), but armed. So forgive me if I’m elbowing my way to the front.
When I got home last night I had two messages. One was from a nurse who had “hoped to reach me before she left for the day” to fill out the MRI questionnaire that has to be completed before the scan can be ordered – the one I’ve now filled out twice. The one the resident asked me about a few hours earlier and said he’d complete a third time - no problem.
“I’ll try you back Monday” she said and I wanted to cry.
The second message was about a new appointment on Nov 22, with a Dr. H., scheduled three hours after the appointment with Dr B. No indication who Dr. H is or what kind of medicine he practices or what the appointment is for.
Anger suddenly overrides fear. That actually feels good. My time has no value. No one owes me explanations. They book and cancel and rebook. I am merely a purse, carrying a malignant tumour or two, as directed, from one place to another.
There is only a certain amount of control one can grab back in this process. I have admittedly, forgivably I’d argue, let myself be dragged along by the tumour. Aside from the amount of radiation and dye I’ve consumed over the past few weeks, nothing is different, yet everything has changed. At some point soon, I’ll pop my head out of this rabbit hole and take the reigns, right after I get my roller-coaster legs, and re-learn to breathe.