"It - by nature - metastasizes."
I remember sitting in an elegant auditorium at my post-doctoral institution, listening to a seminar that I hoped would assist in my aquisition of additional funding. Instead, I frowned as I listened to him speak - showing elaborate drawings of cells breaking free from the primary tumor and exploiting the body's normal functions in an attempt to find a new site to invade.
"So you can't win," I remember thinking. "You either die of cancer or you get lucky and die from something else sooner."
And while my oncology knowledge is outdated at best and perhaps not-exactly-correct at worst, I still have this feeling that cancer is always lurking. Waiting. Watching. Tumbling end over end through the blood stream or lymphatic system, searching for a suitable spot.
Likewise, grief infiltrates - curling threadlike tentacles from the television where commercials urge you to seek better treatment for your specific kind of cancer. Swat absently at you when everything turns pink in October. Knock you off balance when an admin's husband dies from the same kind of cancer Dad had. Pummel your heart when a dear friend who'd been viciously protective of me earlier this year deals with his father's diagnosis, surgery and chemotherapy. Tug at your attention until you're crying while watching Dancing with the Stars because there's a certain performance on Country Night that's a little too poignant.
I mostly endure. Approach each day gently and carefully. Treasure the moments of happiness and laughter and do my best to guard against the terror and sadness even as I acknowledge the futility.
I prayed on Monday morning, hand on Mom's head as she trembled with dread.
"Bless those who are there today or any day. Battle the cancer and the side effects and bring those patients and their families comfort and joy and peace. Give us those things too - Mom and Brother and me. Amen."
I felt strong until we got there. Yet once we climbed the stairs and turned left to Pod C, I began to tremble. I glanced nervously around in the crowded waiting room. Popping up from the edge of my seat when we were called, I followed Mom to the same spot Dad would sit as they'd check his blood pressure, weight and temperature.
And I started to cry.
We went in the same room we'd visited with Daddy. And I thought about how I hadn't known he was slipping away from us so fast. But I clung to Mom's hand and stared across the room at Brother, focusing on the inhale and exhale. Mom prompted me to tell a funny story from our trip north and I was interrupted when the oncologist opened the door.
I went still when I saw him - the doctor my parents decided to share - and felt my eyes go wide and heart race. He sat for a moment, asked questions I can't recall and I frowned when he had Mom leave my side to sit on the table.
"You're doing great," he told her as she perched on the edge. We'd had to help Daddy with the small step toward the end. And he couldn't lie back because of all the pressure in his belly.
"I don't need to see you for another year," he continued as I was plagued by flashes of memory. Dad's hat that boasted that he was a veteran. The way he'd recline in the treatment room as they dripped poison into him for hours. His cheeks would flush.
"The prognosis is excellent," he concluded, turning when I began to sob, clutching Brother's hand helplessly as the grief drowned me. Why didn't we help Dad earlier? Why couldn't he be great? Skip appointments for a year? Have an excellent prognosis? It's not fair. None of this is right and I hate it and I lost control as my emotions rioted for long moments in Exam Room 1.
I faced away from but next to Brother as we stood at the desk to pay and make Mom's next appointment. I linked my arm through his and stared out the window, struggling for control. I watched a train go by. Gazed at the rustling branches of trees and tried to numb myself to what was happening inside.
"We've been waiting for hours," a young woman said behind me. "My dad was supposed to see the doctor and get treatment, but we're still waiting." And I held Brother's arm tighter as they told her they were scheduling an ultrasound for him. They'd try to remove some of the fluid so they could begin treatment again. And I clenched my teeth and tried to pray as my younger sibling sobbed into my hair.
"Mom," I gasped and called her again when she didn't answer. She finally transferred her gaze from the wall to my face.
"Please," I begged. "Let them bill us. Send an appointment card. Please?" She nodded. The familiar office staff nodded. And the three of us raced down the steps and out the door, my gasping sobs echoing shamefully through the two-story lobby.
We finished most of a box of Kleenex on the drive home, all trembling and exhausted and so terribly sad. Mom and I napped, fingers linked, and Brother returned the next day. We had a nice time on Tuesday - looked for furniture for Mom and laughed and ate and I paid $500 for the repairs on the truck Dad bought Brother.
But Monday was misery.
And that misery lurks. Ever present. Always waiting.
And my awareness thereof is excruciating.