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The Good Patient

I am a good patient. I make polite small talk with the medical folks and bake cookies for the nurses. I smile and say “thank you” after they have stuck me with a needle. I try not to call too often to ask about test results, and go to my appointments, on time, I might add, prepared to take notes so that I can be labeled “compliant.” I even dress nice for chemo and scans. Somehow, in my mind, if I am pleasant enough, show appreciation, and act agreeable, they will consider me worth saving. Yeah, I know, it is a whacky way of thinking, but I can’t shake it. Let’s face it: as children, we are given messages that how we perform is who we are. Approval is tied to good grades and decent manners. Having athletic or musical prowess is a bonus. I am not sure that we ever discard those messages.

We have been taught that if we follow the rules, be respectful, polite, and kind, life will treat us well. But the effect/cause dynamics of that idea flies out the window when things go awry. And let’s face it: at some point, we will all have to turn and face the ugly demon of tragedy, who appears at the doorstep and manages to gain entry, even if we have been diligent to guard against it. You can’t outsmart pain or outrun it. It comes and often, it keeps on coming.

And sometimes, it keeps you from being authentic.

While you are performing your tap dance of positive vibes and grateful attitude, those feelings of pain and grief are pushed deep inside. But they don’t go away: they just sink to the bottom like a rock that has been thrown into a swimming pool. And every so often, you have to dive in and clear them out.

That’s what I have been doing. This is what I am currently facing: the cancer is back in the same spot as it was a year ago, and this time it is hell-bent on causing trouble. It is an offspring of the one that was removed, something they call a “sanctuary tumor.” I always thought that was a nice adjective, but not in this case. It seems that the thing has found a hospitable place, one that my body isn’t trying to evict it from, creating instead a comfy environment for it to reside. It quite possibly is resistant to treatment as well, which means that the $160,000 that my insurance company spent on a breakthrough medication and the $300,000 that it spent on chemotherapy was probably a waste of money. Sigh. Who knows? But most unsettling is the fact that it is aggressive, growing quickly. It has to come out. Pronto. In 11 days, I will have a rather radical surgery, the kind that could potentially change my life. I have been given the statistical probability of each possible outcome, and I wouldn't be heading to Vegas with those odds. I will spare you all the particulars, but let’s just say that I am nervous about it. And afraid. Unfortunately, I am well acquainted with both emotions.

I have needed some time to sit with my grief as my over active imagination has played the movie reel of “what ifs.” And I know that what happens in the theater of my mind is often more threatening and scary than the reality. But every once in a while I need to go to that dark place, invite the monsters for tea and cookies and ask them what their intentions are. The gorge themselves and have terrible manners. Rarely, do they tell me what I want to know.

I pray a lot. By now, I am thinking that God is tired of the incessant sound of my voice. But faith is the glue that I use to put the pieces back together after this most recent explosion. It has worked so far. I can't imagine traveling this road without it. So now, I am “nesting,” getting ready for what will be a long recuperation period and subsequent treatment. I’m chasing the dust bunnies and fluffing the pillows. The cupboards are full. I continue to buy green bananas, too, because I fully intend to be around to eat them.

Count on it.

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