My life runs the gambit pretty solidly between the insane and the mundane. Actually, I feel as if it truly exists during the “in betweens”: in between doctors’ appointments, in between treatments, and in between scans. But I think the times in between scans are the worst. Maybe because they run me the full gambit of emotions from mundane to insane, or maybe because at the end they tell me how much closer I am to death.
Since my diagnosis I have had a lot of scans. As a matter of fact, I have had 19 CAT scans and 10 PET scans. Well, as far as I can remember, anyway. Next week I get to have my 20th CAT scan. I get a scan every three months, and every single time it’s like jumping off a cliff as I wait to hear one of two things: “stable” or “progression of disease.” I’ve heard them both, off and on, so it’s not surprising that my stress level is out the window throughout these months. It’s as if I have a four-week period of calm, a four-week period of worry, and then a four-week period of panic before jumping off the cliff again. I remember when I was a kid I used to like a quote by Edward Teller: “When you get to the end of all the light you know and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.”
It’s a beautiful quote. And there was a time in my life when I felt like I could find either a big rock or a flight manual in just about any situation. These days, I feel less optimistic. Which is probably why I have felt so much stress when heading into each and every one of those scans. A few months ago I was swinging exactly from the mundane right into the insane, out from between the in betweens…for it was time for another scan. Time for another leap off the cliff. I headed to the hospital with my armor on (no metal, no reflective writing, no zippers, no metal eye holes…hey, it’s not my first time to the rodeo!) Upon arriving I took my place in the waiting room and listened eagerly for my name to be called. After a few minutes a version of Styblo (with a few added syllables) was mumbled by a man who looked like he was having a worse day than I was. I couldn’t imagine how that could be; after all I was about to get a borderline-safe dose of radiation and then have someone tell me how much closer I was to death. That’s not easy to beat. I could feel the cliff coming ever closer.
So when my grumpy attendant told me to stand in what can only be explained as a hole in the hallway with a drape and change into a hospital gown…I was ready to draw the proverbial line in the sand. When I think of literally the hundreds of things that I have had to do in the past two and a half years that I wanted no part of whatsoever, it only makes sense that I grabbed onto the one thing I thought I had some tiny bit of agency about—that stupid gown! Or maybe I just like to tell myself that so that I feel less like a petulant child. But seriously, I was in my CAT scan gear, sir, why do I need to put on a hospital gown? Because you’re getting a CAT scan. But you’re taking a picture of the inside of my body, not the outside of it. But you’re getting a CAT scan. I know, and this is what I usually wear. But you’re getting a CAT scan; you have to put on a gown. Well, I would prefer not to put a gown on! Do you have a port that needs to be accessed? Yes, but you can’t reach it if I wear a gown, that’s why I have my special CAT scan gear on! But you have to put a gown on! Why? Because you’re getting a CAT scan!
Well, as you can imagine, logic didn’t win this fight and I eventually just put on the stupid gown. But, I mean, come on! I’m in a war with cancer and I can’t even win the battle of the hospital gown! Ridiculous. And to add insult to injury, the nurse accessed the port in my chest incorrectly and somehow nicked something in there during the procedure. So afterwards, when I just happened to glance down, all I saw was blood squirting out of a hole in my chest and the empty basement hallways that suddenly looked like the set of a made-for-TV Stephen King movie. So I got some gauze and made my way back out to the lobby—a little teary-eyed and a little bloody—and praying that I would somehow find that big rock or that flight manual before I had to leap off that cliff. Praying hard that I might land somewhere in between….in between stable and progression of disease.
Now when I go for a scan my mom always reminds me not to fight with the techs. My sister Laura keeps trying to buy me my own fashionista-type hospital gown. And my sister Brenda is always ready with the number of an ombudsman. But I know that those are the trivial silly things. The in-between things that I try to distract myself with. Because I know that the real fear is that big cliff. And after 19 CAT scans and 10 PET scans, I know that there isn’t a rock strong enough to keep me from crashing into the earth, and neither is there a flight manual out there that covers this kind of leap. But I have also learned that I think Edward Teller is wrong. Faith isn’t stepping into the darkness of the unknown and knowing that you will either be given something solid to stand on or that you will be taught how to fly. Faith is trusting that when you leap off the cliff…God will be there to catch you. He’ll catch me. Stable or progression of disease. He’ll catch me. Every three months, and every leap I take in between.