“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
— Martin Luther King
Today dawned cold and dark, but the sun broke through by 8 a.m. and the 4 degrees outside didn’t seem quite as frigid. An hour later I was on my way to my oncologist’s office for my six-month checkup. I am always surprised by the sunshine on days like this, days when I expect gray and gloomy skies. I am no longer fearful of these appointments as I once was, but I know a cancer patient can never be complacent about a recurrence.
My oncologist’s office was crowded today, much more so than usual. I later was told it was because this was a short week due to the holiday. I filled out the usual health update form and sat back to wait and watch. I try not to observe the other patients too closely, but I can’t seem to help myself. Most patients were with someone, a husband or wife or relative. Several were there for their chemotherapy sessions. They looked gaunt and gray and wore winter hats or baseball caps. They were taken into the chemotherapy area separate from the lab area or examining rooms.
I overheard a conversation between two couples who had obviously come to know each other over the months. An older man provided an update to the other couple. He would be going to Memorial Sloan-Kettering for further treatment. That is never a good thing, since my sister also did that. But he seemed upbeat, optimistic about this trip. He would be living with relatives on Long Island, and he talked about this as though it were a vacation.
There was a couple sitting in the chairs across from me. The man sat slightly doubled over, looking at the floor the whole time. The woman had her i-phone in her hand and was playing games while they waited. After a while, she put the phone away, looked at the man, lightly touched him on the arm, but neither one of them spoke a single word the whole time.
While I was waiting for the doctor in the examining room, I could hear conversations in other rooms. Just bits and pieces of conversation I really didn’t want to hear. One man was asking about pain, and the doctor discussed with him options of increasing Percocet and morphine. I tried to imagine what it would be like to have pain every day that could only be relieved by high-powered pain killers. I remember how my sister struggled with pain, especially toward the end.
My own exam went well. I was even told I no longer needed to come in every six months. I had graduated to a yearly exam. Good news in a way, but there is always a level of insecurity that comes with these new steps toward total recovery.
After a stop at the lab for blood work, I made my way back out to the waiting room, now even more crowded with cancer patients in a variety of headgear, using canes for balance and assistance walking. I made my appointment and left, feeling both relief and guilt. I was in good shape. Maybe a few others in the room were also. Maybe they too had completed treatment. But most were in the process of treatment and my wish for them was that within a short time, they would be where I am now, needing only yearly appointments, and appreciating life in this new year that offers to us all so much promise, so much hope.