It’s Not So Bad - You Are a Survivor
by Patricia A. Bauer
The waiting room is comprised of one small loveseat in a brightly flowered pattern. Two straight-back chairs of an anemic maroon color join a small, generic lamp that claims a small space on the magazine-laden table. Although a magazine wall-holder clings to the wall, it is empty. A square mirror that is desperately crying out for a squirt of glass cleaner is suspended above the table. This completes my first vision of the waiting room I would soon come to know very well.
Two other women nervously occupy the room with me. We are all dressed in similar attire – different colored fleece capes lovingly sewn by a group of hospital women for just this special occasion. No undignified and revealing gowns that flap open in the front and back for us. An attractive woman nervously chews on her chipped, broken fingernails and perches uncomfortably on one of the straightback chairs. The other wears a weather-beaten exterior and appears older than I. She flaunts a turban in a blazing array of colors tightly wrapped around her head, complimenting the lively loveseat. Her foot swings and taps in tune with an unknown gypsy melody apparently only she is capable of hearing.
I claim the chair in the corner of the room and briefly wonder, as the two women glance in my direction, what they are thinking. Are they speculating on how I have arrived in this room, waiting for my name to be called, just as they are? Contemplating this thought briefly in my mind takes me to another time and place – one of a newly married woman with a growing family and no time in her busy schedule to dwell on what the future may bring to her. The years rush by in a flurry, and moments of both happiness and sadness fill my head as I ponder my past life. Suddenly, my small, helpless toddlers are grown and have children of their own, and now years later, I find myself alone and frightened in an obscure hospital waiting room.
I claim the chair in the corner of the room and briefly wonder, as the two women glance in my direction, what they are thinking.
The door opens and a smiling female technician calls out a name. The gypsy rises from the loveseat, not losing a beat, and rhythmically walks out of the room. She has undoubtedly experienced this routine many times and is patiently waiting for its final conclusion. Long, mentally strained minutes pass. Soon, another unfamiliar name is called, and I am in the room alone, left to ruminate on the many recent changes in my life. How did I arrive at this point? I close my eyes. Did the fatherly, soft-spoken physician actually inform me that he would be performing surgery to remove the fast-growing tumor that invades my unsuspecting body? It must be someone else experiencing this traumatic event. Surely, it can’t be me.
For the third time, the door opens wide, and my name is called in a tone befitting that of a principal calling her unruly student to the office. I jump up and follow the uniformed woman into another room somewhat larger than the first. In the center is a large, flyingsaucer-like machine with a brilliant blue plastic cot directly beneath it. Covering this is an antiseptic starched white sheet. I am instructed to remove my cozy cape, lay on this flat surface, raise my arms above my head, and relax. Relax! They are instructing me to relax?! This is no easy feat, but after several attempts, the two technicians appear satisfied with my position. All is suddenly quiet, and I realize I am by myself in this cold, sterile radiation room as the flying saucer repeatedly hums and passes over me again and again.
After what seems an eternity, but in reality is only a few tense moments, the technician appears at my side, greets me with a smile, and cheerfully announces, “Okay. That’s it.” As she helps me up, I feel a sense of relief, almost to the point of utopia, flow over me. My first session is finished, and I have succeeded in a way I thought impossible a mere few weeks ago. I return to the waiting room to retrieve my clothing and find another caped woman uneasily awaiting her fate. I turn to her and declare in an almost jubilant voice, “It’s not so bad. You are a survivor, and we will all be just fine.”
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Patricia Bauer was diagnosed with early breast cancer in 2007 and successfully treated. She currently lives in Appleton, WI.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2008.