Knowing it and facing it: two very different beasts.
Cancer stirs up a big ol' pot of primal fear, that much we do know. And since our minds are programmed to go just a little bit crazy upon hearing the "C" word, it's off to terror town we go. Fight or flight? I’ll take flight please. Except there is nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide. My senses are all kafloozy. If I could cook up doom, it would taste like today.
The word "cancer" ushers with it a crushing curtain of dread that never retracts. Draw back the fabric an inch and you'll find plenty of screams, tears, terror, tissues, less oxygen than is necessary to breath, dizziness, darkness (lots and lots of darkness), a bottomless pit and two massive fists trying to clutch at your throat.
Oh. So this is what it feels like to lose your mind.
For me, it happened immediately after I hung up the phone with my primary care physician.
I am in a cloistered place of abject terror, sitting at the kitchen table for what feels like forever (but in reality is actually only about 10 minutes). I remember putting my hand over my mouth (the way you do when you see or hear something so shocking you are unable to process it) and feeling dizzy. the instant I heard Dr. S. utter the word "cancer."
My body had turned into a knife: Every thought and feeling I had, every breath I took, hurt like I imagine a stab wound would.
But something primal deep inside draws me back to the moment. I somehow gather my wits right there in the kitchen chair and suddenly sift through a mental list of people I should call to tell them I have The Big C. Obviously my husband tops the charts — but that must wait until tonight, as I can't bear to give him this news over the phone while he's at work.
I set that desire aside.
Next up: My two closest friends, P. and K (the one on the west coast and the one on the east). We three met 30 years ago at a fraternity house party and immediately clicked. We've been through every life event imaginable together. Last week I told them that "No news is good news." I told them I would only call if the news was bad. They assured me all would be well. But this is news. Definitely news. Definitely bad news.
I call P. at work but she doesn’t answer her cell. I don't leave a message, knowing she'll see that I called and buzz me back (remembering my "I'll only call if the news is bad" pact).
I move on to K. She is also at work, and doesn’t answer her cell either. ERGH! Didn't anticipate this. Can't just hang up though. I think for a second, then put a smile on my face (because I know this will positively affect the tone of my voice) and I leave K a lighthearted message: “Hey! Just calling to check in. Give me a buzz!” I didn't feel it was right to lay out the actual news in a voicemail. I couldn't do that. Call me crazy.
Then I curl up on the couch and wait. And wait. I feel like buckshot in a rifle on the first day of hunting season, waiting for a trigger finger so I can release this fragmented feeling of death.
An hour goes by and I am still laying on the couch, in a sub-catatonic state, when the phone finally rings. Whew! But it's neither P. nor K.; it’s my husband. Crap. Why did I answer the phone? I don’t want to lie if he asks me if I’ve heard from the doctor. Thankfully, he doesn't ask. That may sound weird, but he doesn't want to know the answer any more than I want to give it. So I don’t tell him the news that will soon spoil our dinner. Instead, we talk about what's for dinner.
Then I sit back down on the couch and wait for K. or P. to call. (To continue my story, see Hike Therapy.)