More Than Words

“I’ll see you in May,” my breast surgeon says.  “It’ll be three years then.”

He smiles as he says that.

I smile too, at the idea of three years out.  Sounds like a long time, but is it cause for celebration?  Is it significant? Three years without a sign of recurrence.  Does it mean anything or should it be five years to carry some weight?

Or is it never?

Or is it simply, keep moving until you die of something else?  But, as I tend to do when half naked in front of surgeons, I keep questions to myself and let him go out the door satisfied with his assessment of things today, putting a great deal of faith in his words and that smile.

I gather my stuff and head downstairs to my oncologist’s office though my appointment isn’t until next week.  I like to get blood work out of the way so, if anything questionable arises, we can discuss it during the visit, rather than receive a phone call two days after.

Suddenly, I’m filled with an all too familiar apprehension.  Not two minutes ago, I left my breast surgeon after convincing me my world would keep spinning.  His smile giving me some hope about the future.  I’m thinking with reconstruction finished and my boys in school all day, maybe I can forge ahead with new endeavors.  Get a job of some sort.

I’m optimistic…for exactly the length of time it takes the elevator to carry me one floor.

For up next is the guy who looks beyond the obvious, searching for hidden signs, those invisible, imperceptible.  A tell tale rise in numbers.  The nagging ache of a mysterious new pain.  Time doesn’t matter here.  Nothing is guaranteed after three years and despite the influx of positive thoughts, my cells won’t be influenced by good wishes.

In the waiting room I am the youngest by far.  No one speaks to me.  No one even looks at me, ever. That’s fine.  Everyone is absorbed in their own moment.  Their reality.  Still, every now and then in this room, I’d like someone to acknowledge my existence.  I’m not sure why it matters, but it does.  I’m one of them.

When I walk in the lab, a lady who looks to be in her 70’s is sitting in one of the two chairs.  Even here, no patient has ever spoken to me, but she’s different.  She teases the nurse that my veins are probably a piece of cake.  But, this nurse knows better.  She’s traveled to my land of nonexistent veins before.  She crosses herself and hopes.

The three of us joke about other nurses turning away at the sight of me.  It’s possible to have laughter in this room.

I’m drawn to the lady’s prominent, ropey veins and wish for a moment I had those, but then I don’t.  Her veins, her life.  We are who we are.

I squeeze a ball, as the nurse rubs and taps my hand over and over trying her best to coax the elusive vein. The older lady watches with interest then glances up. There’s understanding in her face, a show of sympathy and she smiles.  

I turn away then, at the pinch.  I can’t bear to watch the tube fill…or not, if my blood refuses to flow, dreading a second jab.

I think of all the times I’ve sat in this room or others as a nurse or anesthesiologist relentlessly tries to insert a needle, and how often I was alone.  Someone may have been waiting in an outer room, but never by my side.

And never, ever, a sweet lady, old enough to be my mother.

But what if there was?  Someone who knew cancer up close and personal.  Someone who hated I was here, but smiled anyway and without words, told me everything would be okay.

I was startled by the rush of emotion.  Surprised a sudden connection with a stranger touched on something I apparently needed, something lost when my mother, the older woman in my life, was taken from me.

Though this lady and I had never laid eyes on each other before, we shared a common enemy.  She turned away from her own problems and looked at me like I mattered.  As I would to my mother if she were sitting there.

No doubt I was reading too much into this.

But maybe I just needed to believe if someone who’d lived longer and seen more, could still smile in that room among the needles, things would work out.  How could I not believe that?

My nurse got the vein on her first try and as the vials filled I focused on good numbers in spite of myself.  I figured a little hope couldn’t hurt and for the second time that day, I thought about the smile someone cared to give me.

Maybe they know something I don’t and sometimes faith can be found in the strangest places.  I just hope it carries over to my next appointment.

10 thoughts on “More Than Words

  1. Stacey,I'm right there with you, at every turn, stubborn vein and half-filled vials. If you're like me, even if you'd asked your surgeon more questions, even more would have occurred to you on your elevator ride. Cancer's elusive and mysterious and we must have faith that our tomorrows are waiting for us to make the most of them.XOXOXO,Brenda


  2. Stacey,This is a beautiful post. Optimism can be pretty elusive can't it? I understand completely about that elevator ride. It's so lovely how you made a connection with the older woman. Sometimes just a smile, or even a knowing look, can mean so much when we are feeling vulnerable and uncertain. And it was perfectly natural for you to think of and miss your mom in those moments. Good luck with your next appointment. Try to keep on keeping the \”faith.\” We have to. Great post!


  3. Stacey, I related to this so deeply that i'm teary-eyed for you. I may not share the exact circumstances, but I can so relate to that longing for my mom, and your mom–that older woman who would care and assure us that everything is going to be okay. I loved this post. Beautiful.


  4. So touched by this. Oh, we all know how this feels! Wanting to get on with life, but unable to avoid that dread. I've had a few of those moments of connection with others who were waiting, some of them fairly extensive. It does mean so much, makes a difference to us all. This is such a lonely road, yet we know there are many of us travelling it…together is better than apart. xoxo


  5. Such a brilliant and beautiful post! I think it's my favorite so far! You are a great writer. And that older woman? She might well have been an angel. Sent by your Mom. It's possible — anything is possible, right?;-)


  6. Brenda and Elaine, thank you for your words.Nancy, I think you hit on something by saying we're vulnerable. That's exactly it and who would we long for in those moments, but our mothers and those of us going through this alone are reminded of our loss at every turn. Just something else we've lost to cancer. Thanks, Nancy, as always for reading and writing here.Thanks, Wendy. I knew you'd understand. I'm sad to say.Hi Sara, I love the idea of hope finding you or me, any of us dealing with crappy hand. It's a nice thought. Thanks.Hi Kathi, I've never connected with anyone in these offices before. I'm happy to know you have and that it's possible. You're right about going this road alone. We have to, no one can do it for us, but it does help knowing others can share it. Thank you.Hi Renn, I'm touched by your sweet comment. Really, all of that was so nice of you to say and I love the angel idea. Yes, anything is possible. Thank you!


  7. Lovely, Stacey. And let me share something with you: three years is significant. So is three years and a day, three years and two days.Every moment we're here? Yes, it's significant. What I told myself and say at every chance I can to other cancer survivors: LIVE YOUR LIFE! Step right up and into it. If it's time to think about getting a job? Go for it! Time to start something new? Do it! Glad to hear your good news,JMS


  8. Hold on to that memory — and next time you see your Angel lady, give her a big hug! 1-24-2012 My Dr said \”Great. July will be TWO years!\”….and next thing for me is the \”lipstick color choice\” day……Gotta Love It!


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