We are there early, having navigated the notoriously bad Atlanta traffic. On any given day, a trip to the city could take minutes or hours, depending on luck and the number of catastrophes that clog up the interstates with alarming regularity. I am having my own catastrophic moment, so I am grateful not to have encountered another. Little things suddenly seem big to me.
The waiting room is upscale, dimly lit. There are comfortable chairs and a table with bottled water and snacks. I think it is supposed to evoke a feeling of calm. I don’t feel calm.
I am back to the mindless magazines. But I will take any diversion, a moment where the word “cancer” doesn’t echo through my brain, reminding me that everything is different now. There is a two-page spread about how to look chic at a festival. “Remember, you can’t do much in terms of makeup application when you are using a port-a-pottie.” The idea amuses me, and I wonder if I will ever attend a festival again. It is a strange thought.
The room is quiet. Women sit wordlessly waiting their turns. I see that all have their hair, and for some reason I find that reassuring. I think that I expected a bit of camaraderie in this place, an informal initiation into the sisterhood that we now share. But no, most are lost in their own thoughts. I understand.
I am surprised by the number of men who sit and wait for their wives and daughters, the worried expression etched on their faces. They are there for support, of course. They have been taught to be heroes, and they want so desperately to be, but there is little to do. The heroism lies firmly with the patient. This is a dragon that no brave knight can slay for the poor distressed damsel. Wish he could.
The waiting is long. Young faces in the magazine stare back at me. I read an article about a nineteen year old model who is the toast of the runways of New York. I try to remember being nineteen, to recall that feeling of immortality when your entire future lies ahead. But it is elusive for me having happened far too long ago. I wonder what choices I might have made, what things I would have done differently had someone whipped out a crystal ball and told me what was coming. By its very nature, hindsight is 20/20.
I am finally called back and ushered into one room and then another. I am told what to expect at this visit. The oncologist finally appears. His eyes are kind. He is all business as he performs the exam. It hurts. He marks my belly and measures some unknown factor. Perhaps he wants to know the size of the alien creature who resides within me before he formulates the battle plan.
Afterwards, we meet with him in his office. He has my chart in hand, ready to present me with a road map that will get me from this starting place to my ultimate destination of healing. He focuses on me with his kind eyes.
“Paula,” he says, “you are about to embark on a spiritual journey.”
I nod, unable to speak.
He reaches for my hand. “And before we begin, I would like to pray with you.”
This is a first for me, but I am comforted by his words uttered to God on my behalf. I have to believe that I am in good hands. And perhaps this is my sign. I cling to hope. Always.