Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Just Between Worlds

LAST WEEK...I got an email from a dear friend. I don't say that lightly. She is someone I work with who was instrumental in getting me through breast cancer. Day-by-day, chemo appointment by chemo appointment, she was there for me. She made me laugh, laughed at my bad jokes and helped me make up new ones. Her specialty was the irreverent kind: the ones that you know are so bad that no one should really laugh but you do anyway.

I JUMPED UP...Her email said that she had gone for an annual physical which had morphed into a mammogram and from there, into a biopsy. She was now waiting for the results. I read the email and didn't even think to respond back. I jumped up from my desk and headed to her office because seeing her in person was the only reasonable way I could think to digest the situation.

AND GAVE HER A HUG...The first thing I did was give her a hug. I hugged her for a long time and I am not the kind of person who hugs and doesn't let go. I told her that she would be O.K. no matter what happened. It was nice to be able to say that and know it's true because you have personal experience in the matter.

A BIG HUG AND TEARS...After our big, long hug, I looked at her. She had tears in her eyes. This kind of surprised me because we are talking about a very, very strong person here. Someone with a family and kids a big job and the weight of the world on her shoulders. She does not ruffle easily which is why we are friends. (Opposites attract. I fall apart when I get a hangnail).

SHE HAS MY MAGIC WAND...The second thing (after the big hug) was to give her my one and only magic wand. I have this battery operated magic wand that I keep at my desk. You never know when you might need one. (Now it's on her desk.)

AND HELD MY HAND...We talked and cried and we held hands way longer than two women who are not partners should hold hands. When we finally let go, between the crying and the hand holding, we joked that people were going to think we broke up or something.

BECAUSE SHE WOULD BE O.K....And one of the sweetest things she said to me, in the middle of what I can only describe as a look of terror in her eyes, was that she had hope because I was O.K. "I keep thinking it's going to be OK because Denine went through this and she's O.K." That really touched me. I guess I had never thought of my experience like that. I have been so involved in my own recovery for so long that it never occurred to me that I could be a poster child for hope.

WHICHEVER WORLD SHE LANDED IN...The other thing I told her -- something I wish I had known at the time -- was that this time she was going through right now was the worst time because you don't know which world you belong to. The two worlds are so different -- the world of having cancer and not having cancer -- that the worst part is not knowing where you fit. Once you know, you can move. Take action, DO something constructive. But until then, you are just caught in the soft, cottony clouds of Nowheresville, waiting for a phone call that you know will change your life, no matter what the news. 

LIKE SOME OTHER WORLDS YOU LAND IN...It's not unlike having your child evaluated to see if they have autism. You wait, you wonder, you bargain with whatever devil or deity you believe in and you agonize until you know. Once you know, you can prepare: you make phone calls, get smart, search the internet, buy vitamins, ask questions and take control. But until you know, you are caught between planets, spinning between what may be and what might be and what you wish could be if somehow you could just have another chance. 

BUT NOW WE HAVE REAL STORIES...When I left her, I have to say that I was worried for her. Even with my experience in both worlds, I kept thinking that to go from an exam to a mammogram to a biopsy within the space of a few hours was worrisome. So when she emailed me again later that day to tell me that the magic wand worked because she got the all clear, I was ecstatic for her. And all I could think of was that now she would be a different kind of breast cancer poster child for someone else. And for anyone who goes through this, we now have a few stories that are real stories -- not urban myths -- about breast cancer. Hopeful stories about women who have survived and hopeful stories about women who really thought the diagnosis was imminent but they were O.K. Either way, maybe it will give each of us a little more peace of mind when we pick up the phone to schedule our annual mammogram.