Sunday, May 23, 2010

Marking Time

Spring has always been a favorite time of year for me.  How can you not love seeing bright new blossoms, hearing the sweet chirp of baby birds, or enjoying the fresh, grassy taste of the first asparagus of the season?

In Israel, we don't get to share the excitement of the sight of crocuses and daffodils peeking through the snow, but we get a valley filled with pink and white almond blossoms, and the end of the rainy season. 

Judaism fills spring with holidays- from Purim (the Story of Esther) in March, to Passover a month later, then onto Lag B'Omer and, finally, at the end of May, Shavout- a festival that is celebrated by decorating our homes and synagogues with flowers.  (What a way to say, 'Spring!')

But as much as I love smiling at springtime, it also brings to our family a time of reflection: as we prepare to celebrate each holiday, we also mark the anniversary of the death of a parent.  My mother-in-law passed away a few days before Purim; my father-in-law died suddenly that Passover; my father died two days before Lag B'Omer; and my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer Shavuot time (she passed away a few weeks later). 

I've been quietly marking time since Purim, when I found that lump in my neck.  Incredibly (and incredibly frustratingly), it's been almost 4 weeks since I had my biopsy, and I still don't have the results.   We knew we were going to celebrate Purim and Passover with 'the unknown' hanging over our heads, but I don't think we counted on still being in the dark over Lag B'Omer, and it definitely never occurred to us that we would still be in limbo over Shavuot.

By now, I can recite thyroid cancer statistics at the drop of a hat:  37,000 new cases in the US each year; 1,600 deaths.   I can give you a list of celebrities who are survivors (Catherine Bell, Joe Piscipo, Rod Stewart), and one who didn't survive (Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist).  I fill friends' and family members' ears with optimism and make sure that I add a giggle when they call to confirm that, no, I still haven't gotten the biopsy results.

I'm a fountain of one-liners, all intended to keep everyone at ease:  

- After keeping me waiting this long for the results, 'they' owe it to me to give a good report

- I think I've discovered a new type of Mossad torture..

- Isn't keeping you waiting so long for biopsy results against the Geneva Convention?

I've actually been coping pretty well.  The first week after the biopsy, I made sure to find all sorts of rote things to keep me busy:  straightening closets, washing windows.. I told everyone I had the cleanest bathrooms in the neighborhood (that always raised a chuckle).   There've been a few difficult days- the occassional  anxiety filled morning, or afternoon where all I could do was sleep.  But, all in all, I think I've been doing OK.  I've even been able to fill phone calls and car rides with giggles so that whomever I'm with can relax.

But I'm starting to lose my cool, calm demeanor.   I was sure that I'd finally be getting the results today, and started to brace myself for the call from the surgeon's office.  But when I hadn't heard anything by mid-morning, I called them- only to be told that my doctor wouldn't be in his office until tomorrow evening.

I hung up the phone, and collapsed in my chair, crying.   It took hours, and trying all sorts of things, from meditation to alcohol, before I was able to regain a measure of calm.   Then I got angry, really angry, wondering how the heck anyone could be expected to wait this long for results, and how the hell a medical professional could keep a patient hanging all this time.   In between all that, I found myself amazed that I hadn't had a seizure or a heart attack or even just a simple fainting spell from all the stress.

Yet, here I am, writing, waiting, wondering.   I tell my friends that the wait is intended to bring a sense of quiet defeat to the patient- at some point, you stop caring what the results are, you just want to get them already. 

I told my husband, when Shavuot was approaching, and we didn't have the results, that in a way I didn't want to get the results until after the holiday, because I didn't want it to be another one of our 'bad news' holidays.  Now we're approaching a round of personal celebrations- our wedding anniversary (35!) and our birthdays, and I'm telling everyone (including myself) that 'they' owe it to me not to mark these special days with negative news.

Just a few more days of waiting.....  my spirit isn't broken:  I'm confident that the news will be good.  Sure, I'll still be facing some complicated surgery.  But as long as the word 'cancer' (there, I finally said it) isn't attached to that surgery, I won't be complaining.