It is very important not to become hard...have one skin too few in comparison to other people, so you feel the slightest wind.~Shusha Guppy
She kept looking at me--glancing over unsmiling, eyes bright, fevered. Her thinning blonde hair messy, unkempt. A walker stood near her as she sat on the edge of a chair in the doctor's office. She appeared to be in her seventies. I sat several feet away from her, smiled and made eye contact. Finally she said to me, "I have fluid on my lungs. I'm waiting for my daughter to take me to another doctor to have the liquid drawn off." The waiting room wasn't crowded, but everyone there could hear the woman and me, too, when I said, "I'm sorry to hear you're going through a rough time." That comment seemed to unleash her story. "I'm getting chemo now. I just finished two treatments, and I have four more. But I just have no appetite, so the doctor prescribed weed (I think she was referring to marinol). Better to be high, I guess, than too skinny." She chuckled when she said that, then went silent, her head down. I looked out of the corner of my eye and observed some people smiling. Others fidgeted. When one is sitting in an oncologist's waiting room, the elephant in the center is cancer. Nobody breathes that word, though. Afraid to even utter it. Yet the woman continued. "I have ovarian cancer. It's awful." I transcended my embarrassment, my self-consciousness and replied, "I know. Cancer is horrible. I had six chemo treatments. I made it through, one by one." "You did?" She smiled then. "And you're okay?" "Yes, I'm here today for my first check up, to see if I'm still clear." People looked up from their magazines, their phones and laptops, now wondering where this public conversation would go. "You look good," the woman said. And indeed, I was feeling energetic again, my hair growing back, my weight stabilized (I'd gained weight). "What's your first name?" I asked the woman. "Patsy," she said. "And yours?" "Priscilla," I answered. "Oh, that's a pretty name." At that moment, Patsy's daughter peeked her head inside the waiting room door and said, "Mom it's time to go." Patsy struggled to get up, grabbed her walker and slowly made her way across the room. "God bless you," I said as she left. She called back, "Pray for me." I said, "I will," my voice loud, confident. Everyone heard me.
"You're doing great," the doctor said. "We'll see you in another three months." These were the words I'd prayed to hear. Eleven months prior, I'd been diagnosed with cancer. I'd gone into fighting mode, soldiering on, isolating myself to protect my immune system. Tolerating side effects and wearing eyebrow wigs. Unable to walk a flight of stairs. Now the doctor said things were good. I could re-engage with life. As strange as this seems, I didn't jump for joy. I hung back. Could I trust news so good? All along the recovery journey, I'd had setback after setback--blood clots, hidden veins that required a picc line, depression. Now, I was given the green light to enter normalcy.
How would I choose to live without being required to "soldier on?" I was used to sitting on the sidelines, watching the game. Now it was time to plan lunches with friends, say "yes" to that vacation with my husband, peel off the eyebrow wigs. Take the stairs. I'd need to keep my daily routines, too, of course, and continue writing, surely. I could feel myself coming back, freely smiling and appreciating the new energy. My freedom. It was real. It was not a mirage. I was laughing. And running, even. Not only walking when I went outside for exercise.
My skin is thinner now, so to speak. Thinner in the sense that I am more acutely aware of others' suffering. Like noticing the slightest breeze. "God," I prayed. Extend your mercy and love, your healing, your restoration to Patsy. And thank you. Thank you for your mercy toward me. Your love. Your healing."