They confirmed it Thursday morning. Colon cancer. I had woken up from anesthesia one week ago, and the doctor was eye-level with me. Tumor was all I heard. It’s hard to describe the feeling that comes over you when you hear that word. It washes over you and wraps around you with heavy, harrowing weight. I felt like I was floating and falling at the same time, but maybe that was still the drugs. My breath caught in my chest the same way it would during the CT scan the following day. A robotic voice says loudly during the CT scan to “hold your breath.” It would have been nice to have that voice in the recovery room because the next thing it tells you to do is breathe.
I had been worried about this. I’m young. I’m thirty-seven, but I had felt something that wasn’t supposed to be there for a few months. Everyone was convinced it was hemorrhoids. You’re too young, some would say. You’re too pretty, said others. As if disease discriminates against the old or slovenly. Cancer has no preference.
I had my first taste of disease at seven years old. I was startled from sleep by the pressure of needles and the pain of fire. I tried to jump from the bed, but I couldn’t move. I was trapped, paralyzed beneath the cotton sheet, its fabric seemingly searing into me. After spending over a month in the hospital the doctors decided it seemed most like rheumatic fever, but why it didn’t kill me, they couldn’t say.
There is something familiar about the unfamiliarity of disease. This uncertainty, this lofty fear, it strikes hard. But so much is different this time from last: I’m a mom, a wife, people depend upon me and I live for them. I’m not sitting in a hospital bed with Nickelodeon in the background, waiting for the nurses to leave so I can sneak to the kitchen to steal some cookies. I’m sitting on my couch, with the baby monitor to my side, my puppy curled up at my feet, wondering how hard this is all going to be.
It is a big thing for me to be wondering how hard this is going to be, instead of how long I’ll have with my son and my husband. The latter thought sat steadily in my prefrontal cortex for the majority of the past week, and it left me devastated and tear stained most nights wrapped in the arms of my husband, who can only be described as steady. He is my island in this hurricane.
I am scared. I am overwhelmed. But I can’t tell what has overwhelmed me more: the fear or the kindness. When I woke in the hospital bed, my doctor had her hand on my arm, and with a gentle voice she told me what she found. She didn’t mince words. She didn’t hesitate in the assuredness of what she saw. She praised me for trusting my gut. She told me I would be fine (I doubted her), and she rubbed my arm as she said I had done exactly what I was supposed to do. My husband and I picked up our son from school, and that night I folded into my husband’s arms and wept with fear.
The next morning I received a phone call from Rebecca, a nurse at the endoscopy center who had heard of me. My doctor had asked Rebecca to call me because she is eleven years out from colon cancer. Rebecca asked if she could be by my side in my cancer journey. I wept when I hung up the phone. I wept with fear and I wept with gratitude.
When the insurance company called to confirm the CT scan, scheduled for 27 hours after the colonoscopy, I cried and told the woman on the other line how thankful I was for good insurance. She cried, too. She apologized for being unprofessional, and I apologized for not having myself together and we cried more together. She told me she was envisioning my face wrapped in light. I wept when I hung up the phone. I wept with gratitude. Strangers were holding me in their hearts, extending their prayers, and I felt love all around me.
I suppose you don’t really see God until it’s impossible not to. I see Him everywhere now. In friends calls and texts, in the voices of strangers and the hugs of new friends. This is all terrifying. But it is also so beautiful: the way we can care for each other when it matters.
I don’t know what is in store for me. I don’t know how much of this thing is inside of me, and I don’t know what kind of treatment I’ll have to have. But I do feel myself crossing the bridge from fear to fact, to the place where I put my head down, listen to the doctors, and get this fucking thing out of me. As long as I have this incredible community around me, ready to pick me up when I fall, and I know I will fall, I will succeed.
In my first week I have learned three things:
Crying is less destructive to makeup when the makeup is only on the upper eye.
Destiny’s Child and Christina Aguilera have come roaring back into my playlist on Pandora with “Survivor” and “Fighter,” and I am here for it.
Kindness is everywhere, and kindness is strong enough to pull you up from the depths of hell if you just grab onto it.