In the Midst of Waiting

by Melodie on April 23, 2010

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Last week I had a small, hard nodule surgically removed from under my skin. The doctor said I would have to wait for about eight days while a pathologist examined the tissue and issued a report on his findings.

Eight days to wait. I wondered if the sarcoma or papillary carcinoma had recurred. Could it show up in that location, far from the original tumors? Or was it a new cancer? After removing it, my doctor had said the nodule looked like a benign cyst. I felt hopeful she was right. But I’d been told the same thing with a previous biopsy, and it had turned out to be more serious. I got on the internet and searched medical articles.

I’ve been in this place many times before – waiting for the result of a biopsy, a scan or a report. Hoping for the best but wondering about the worst. My response in the waiting has been different in each situation, depending on what is going on in my life at the time.

Sometimes I’ve gotten reflective, pulling out my journal and writing a lot. Other times, I’ve invited friends to join our family for a picnic, a swim or a game night — something that would distract me and remind me of my blessings in friendship, no matter what might happen next.

This time, I found myself drawn toward preparation.  Logical, practical preparation. After all, I thought, if this tissue is cancerous, I will probably need to go back to the U.S. for treatment. And Chris might have to pack up our house to move the family back to join me.  So I focused my preparation on that possibility.

I went through my kids’ closets and my own, culling out unworn and outgrown clothing to deliver to our favorite charity. Both children sorted out toys to give away and sell at a community yard sale last Friday. (No need to pack unnecessary items for a move, after all.) I inventoried the pantry, purchasing food we were low on so the family would have necessary staples should I need to make a quick exit to the U.S. While the kids were at school, I finished my business taxes, made phone calls, ordered prescription refills, caught up on e-mails. My family scrapbook had a few more pages added. I stacked a pile of receipts and insurance forms on the desk to motivate me to submit medical claims to our health insurance company. (They’re still sitting there, since I’d rather clean toilets than fill out insurance forms.)

Accomplishing these activities gave me some peace in knowing that there would be a sense of order and completion should my life change dramatically with an announcement, “It’s cancer.”

Last evening after the children were asleep, I pulled out a women’s magazine to read. In one article, the author said she suggested an exercise to her workshop participants: List things you would do if you had a year to live. They would answer, “I’d travel to Istanbul, learn to weave, eat as much ice cream as I wanted.” Then she would ask, What would you do if you had six months to live? And then, two months? A week? A day? By this time, the answers had narrowed from what favorite food a person would binge on to “I’d hold my children close, I’d smell the air, I’d spend every waking moment being grateful.” Her conclusion: “When you imagine that you have a month or a week to live, you suddenly become aware of what’s really important.”

I thought back over the past week I’d spent on papers, calls and closets. Based on this author’s exercise, I must have subconsciously thought I still had a year or five left to live. Certainly I wasn’t focused on the spiritual and existential activities that seem to happen if you imagine you could be dead the next day. But does that make the practical activities useless and superficial? I don’t think so. For me, they led to a sense of stability and closure – something I needed at this time in my transient life as a global nomad. And these activities fit with my personality; I’m someone who thrives in an orderly environment.

What is needed in times of uncertain waiting is different for each person, and for each time in that person’s life. The important thing, I believe, is that the actions we take during the waiting times are constructive and healing.

This morning, my doctor called to tell me the biopsy tissue is normal. The nodule was a simple epidermoid cyst, benign. I love that word – benign — and the implications it carries. I won’t have to leave my friends, pack up a household and go back to my home country for cancer treatment. I can look forward to homework and family dinner tonight, a parent-teacher conference, our vacation plans.

And if you come to my house, you can look in my pantry and closets. I won’t even be embarrassed, now that they’re all cleaned up.

What activities give you peace, purpose or stability in times of uncertain waiting?

Coming next: When to Get a Second Opinion on a Biopsy

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Rocio P. Mason April 25, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Dear Melodie,

Great news about the results! I will be waiting for some results next month also and appreciate so much your thoughts and actions about it. Now, that Im close to family, I think being with them helps me cope with uncertain waiting.

The more I read about you the more I realize we have a lot in common. I do not like filling out insurance forms but love an orderly environment.

See you soon,

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