I'm sitting on the crinkly paper in an exam room at the Cancer Center, wearing the ubiquitous polka-dotted cloth johnny, waiting for what feels like the millionth doctor consultation.
I can feel myself slipping into self pity. I don't want to be here. Not at all. I used to drive by this shiny new facility, only about 20 minutes from my house, and avert my eyes. I hope I never have to go there, I'd think.
Now here I am.
I feel as though I've slipped into a parallel universe, behind a veil that others don't see. The cancer veil. It's another world behind here, one where the petty concerns of my previous life seem very small indeed. I watch the world rush by on the other side of the veil, a world where people's minds are full of everyday concerns like holiday shopping, meetings, work, errands.
I watch them, and I miss belonging there. Now that I've stepped behind the veil, I don't know that I'll ever inhabit that world of industrious obliviousness ever again.
The doctor pokes his head in, saying "Knock Knock", like they all do. He smiles, introduces himself, and does a quick examination. He tells me to get dressed and calls my husband in for a consultation. He is the medical oncologist; the expert on chemotherapy and radiation, and he will tell us what the next three months of our lives are going to be like.
Keeping a practiced smile on his face, he talks about seven weeks of daily radiation, three doses of chemotherapy, interspersed at weeks one, four and seven. You will lose your hair, he says, slipping this tidbit in amongst the medical stuff. And you will need a feeding tube.
My stomach drops into my feet. Feeding tube? I knew I might lose my hair, but definitely?
Despair rolls over me like a fog. I can see Steve and the doctor chatting there on the other side of the veil, and I'm grateful he is here, because I'm speechless, lost. I hear the doctor say they will put the feeding tube in - a standard procedure, nothing to be concerned about, just a tube that will be inserted directly into your stomach near your belly button - before the chemo and radiation will even start, because once they start my throat will be too ravaged to eat or drink.
I'm sinking lower, fighting back tears. I grope for gratitude, and I can't find it anywhere. I love my hair, I think. I love food. I don't want to do this.
But of course I will. And I won't do it alone.
Here behind the veil there is an army. I sit in waiting rooms and I glance at my fellow soldiers, some with hair, some without, some wearing bandages or looking weak and pale, but all with a look of determination and courage. They are bruised and battered, but not broken. They fight with all they have, and I will too.
There are incredible nurses with just the right combination of cheer and realism, who possess a compassion and humanity that boggles my mind. They are the generals who lead our army bravely into battle.
There are doctors who perform miracles with their hands and their smarts every day. They are the Chief Executives, the strategists, the ones who refuse to be beaten by this disease.
There are the survivors - there are oh so many survivors - who share their stories of fear, pain, hope and triumph.
You do not meet people like these - the patients, nurses, doctors and survivors - very often on the other side of the veil. Together we do what none of us can do alone.
We drive home in a stunned silence. My mind is flip flopping between sadness and fear. I have three more scans to endure in the next week - a CT Scan, and MRI and a PET Scan - to complete the "staging process" - a fancy way of saying they will tell me if there is cancer anywhere else.
I push away the fear and search for things to be grateful for, making a mental list: I live close to world class care, I have an incredible support system, it appears my cancer is treatable. This helps a little, but I feel the weight of the veil pressing on me, making it hard to breathe.
Stop fighting and surrender, I think. What happens is not up to you. I close my eyes and think of the army, of the hope and courage they carry in their hearts, and I let go.