A young woman weeped. Pretty blond hair swung in front of her face, but it didn’t hide her angst. From where I sat, I could feel the panic running though her body. It cut through the room like a chilly, wet breeze and crept into my lungs.
Her cellphone was pressed to her ear. “I’m going to get a parking ticket,” she said in a breathless voice. “I thought I’d only be here an hour.” Two small children shared the chair next to her, oblivious to their mom’s distress.
Three other women sat across from them, and I was in a corner seat. We were wrapped in thin, blue robes, just like the blonde. I glanced at my book, but it was hard to concentrate, so I took in the scene unfolding across from me instead.
“They found something,” the lady whispered into her phone. She was obviously trying to keep her voice down, but it came out sounding terrified and aggressive. “Can you come and get the kids? I don’t know how long this is going to take. And we can’t afford a parking ticket.”
I guessed that she was talking to her husband, that she was trying to communicate how scared she was without alarming their children. But the tension she radiated was infectious, and I have no doubt that her anxiety came through to him clearly.
Her panic reminded me of when I received my own diagnosis, even though my experience was very different from hers. I was at a rural hospital, where I had the waiting room to myself. A single tech did all the work, and there wasn’t a parking meter for miles around.
My husband had found a lump in my right breast, as hard and defined as an almond, just below the surface of my skin. During my mammogram, the tech told me she knew where I could get cheap chemo.
“I must have cancer,” I thought. The revelation came to me like a math problem that suddenly makes sense. While my breast was clamped in a vise, I realized that my life was going to change. But at least my kid was safe at home with my husband and I wasn’t worried about parking tickets.
Over the course of my treatment, I’ve sat in waiting rooms over and over again. I’ve waited for biopsies, chemotherapy, radiation, mammograms, and scans of every size, shape, and color. Sometimes, the women I wait with talk like sorority sisters at a pillow party, and sometimes, we keep to ourselves like strangers in a train station.
But once in a while, I have an encounter that’s memorable.
That day, while I sat in that waiting room, I identified with that blond-haired woman. I wondered if she had cancer, too, if her life was going to shift in ways she couldn’t possibly imagine. I looked at her kids and saw the face of my own daughter.
I wanted to tell her that the beginning part is hard, but it gets easier. I wanted to offer her reassurance that wasn’t mine to give.
But she was on the phone, anyway, and she appeared to be caught in the vortex of impending cancer. Then, I heard my name called and went in to hear my own fate. By the time I was done, she was gone.
I never found out what happened to her.
All these years later, I still see her face. I feel her terror. I wonder about her children and husband and about how all their lives are unfolding.
I’ve come to understand that it is the nature of serious illness to leave questions unanswered. And for me, the blonde in the waiting room is one of them.
Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.
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