I remember years ago I was at an English teachers’ conference in Chicago where Nikki Giovanni was a speaker. She had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and she said that she had learned that a good day is one in which you experience both laughter and tears. I thought I understood what she meant then. I really understand what she means now. For this first couple of weeks of the breast cancer diagnosis, I’ve been mostly in survival mode and just getting from one doctor’s appointment and scan to the next. But gradually this week the emotion is starting to seep through. I’m having more tears, which is think is healthy. I’ve always thought that tears are holy and sacred. Maybe that’s why we’re so uncomfortable when we’re around someone who is crying. We feel uncomfortable bearing witness to that sacred moment.
I’ve also been struck for years with how my dyslexic typing often makes “scared” into “sacred.” Even though it’s probably just in the English language, I don’t think it’s coincidence that these two are so close. I’ve been scared a lot in the past two weeks, but I’ve also been in the midst of what feels very sacred, especially in the words and gestures of love and encouragement and comfort that so many people have offered me. How to feel the depth of that caring and compassion? Sometimes only laughter or tears can express it.
I’m also learning to let go of expectations. The shifting landscape of appointments is forcing me to do just that. For example, yesterday in one phone conversation, I had the chemo port surgery scheduled at Battlefield Parkway at 2 PM then 8 AM and then 12:30 PM. But I think one of those was scheduled for Erlanger. The final one seems to be Battlefield Parkway at 12:30. Then there was the chemo treatment, which the medical oncologist said could be right after the port surgery. That was to be at 1:30 on Wednesday. So I told the scheduler that I didn’t think I could have surgery at 12:30 and then get to chemo by 1:30. She told me I could. I said, “I can have the surgery, and we can drive from Battlefield Parkway to Erlanger in an hour??” Oh, she thought chemo would be at Battlefield Parkway. So she checked with someone else and said for me just to go to Erlanger after the surgery, and someone whose name she can’t remember would be ready for me. Of course, I didn’t trust that this would be okay, so I told my sister that she could get that straightened out for me when she gets here. I know she can be assertive enough to make sure the details are ironed out. But I got a call today saying that I couldn’t get from the surgery to chemo in time for a treatment (yes, I agree!), so the chemo will have to be Thursday. Would I like a morning appointment at Erlanger or an afternoon one at Battlefield Parkway? They’re only at Battlefield Parkway (oh, and they call it “Parkway” whereas most people in this area call it “Battlefield.” So confusing.) on Thursdays. Apparently all of the schedulers are not aware of that. I choose Erlanger. I get a 9 AM appointment. There are some other port/needle details I asked about, but since needles and all make me very uncomfortable, I won’t talk about that now and will try not to think about it until the port is installed, and I make it through the first night with it. My chemo treatments will take two hours, so now I can let my chemo-treatment drivers know how long their commitment is. I know this is a long rigamarole paragraph, but it mirrors my experience. I have a feeling this won’t be the first one in this process. Laughter and tears are good, remember? And scared is sacred.