Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Waiting for the Dawn

Take this soul, stranded in some skin and bones--
Take this soul and make it sing. *
November 26, 1997. The day before Thanksgiving. I am alone in my dorm room, sitting on the floor in an empty space surrounded by stacks of books and papers. I rest the old beige telephone on my lap and dial the surgeon's office carefully.

Hello, I'm calling for Dr. La Mancha? Yes, I can hold. Hi, yes, I'm still here. I'm calling for the results of my biopsy last Friday. Yes, he said he'd call me on Monday, but I didn't hear from him then, and he hasn't returned any of my messages...yes, I can hold. Hi, yes, here I am.

Dr. La Mancha is out of the office for the week. Another doctor is on the phone. Well, it is lymphoma; nodular sclerosing Hodgkin's Disease in fact, he says. Looks like stage 2A. You'll probably receive the standard treatment regimen--chemotherapy, probably four cycles or so. ABVD, I imagine, followed by several weeks of radiation therapy. We'll refer you over to Dr. Kaplan at the Tumor Institute, and you can set up an appointment with him next week or the week after. Okay? Okay.

My roommate has entered the room during this brief conversation. She glances at me and her face lights up. "I knew it would be okay!" she whispers, grinning. I realize my face is frozen in the polite smile I put on when the doctor began to speak, and quickly shake my head at her, relaxing my grimace into a frown. She bites her lip and sits down on her bed while I mechanically take notes as the doctor finishes. Nodular sclerosing Hodgkins 2a, I write. Chemo. ABVD. Radiation. Kaplan.

I still have that slip of paper in a scrapbook in my closet. "Chemo" is underlined twice.

The Automatic Bravery of a Cancer Patient, Exhibit A: My roommate being a nursing student, she all but pulls me to the nursing building to sit down and ask questions of her favorite nursing professor. The professor answers cautiously when I ask about the possibility of staying in school while I receive treatment, but admits it might be an option.

I am eighteen and have been in Seattle for barely one year. I stay in control of myself when the nursing professor is speaking, but every time I think about moving back home I start crying again. It seems childish to be more upset about this than I am about having cancer, I realize, but the tears keep coming.

I don't want to tell my parents this news. I imagine my mother sobbing. Oh, hell, will my father cry? Will they insist that I move home? What if I just don't tell them until after Thanksgiving?

But they already know about the biopsy, so they'll be waiting to hear something. And I'm a terrible liar. So I try the next best thing: I ask the nursing professor if she can call my parents to tell them, while my roommate and I are in the midst of our ten-hour drive home. I convince myself that this is a great idea--my parents can have a day to absorb the shock before I have to deal with their emotions, and the professor can answer the questions they will have.

Yes, I tell myself. This is a great idea. And she does it, too, calls them while I am on the freeway, inaccessible in the slow traffic jam that always oozes down I-5 the night before Thanksgiving.

I'm still a little ashamed of being that cowardly, I say.

Ah, you say, shrugging a little; but it was seven years ago, after all. You were just a kid.

I'm glad it's been seven years. It's not a cheerful anniversary, but I mark it every year.

Is it morbid that I can remember this date more easily than the date of my final radiation, my "remission date?"

*Yahweh, by U2, from "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb"