Driving home from the class I taught tonight, I was rolling through my neighborhood, perplexed. I had dutifully put out my trash and recycling and yard waste today, but no one else had. Weird.
My imaginary finger-wagging was short-lived as I realized why I’m the only one with trash cans placed at the curb: tomorrow is not trash day.
The time between the day you hear that you have cancer (Thursday) and the day when you meet with the whole team of melanoma specialists (Wednesday) is a very long time, indeed. It’s also very, very short. And somewhere in the waxing and waning of time I got lost.
I want time to move quickly, because there is something in my body that most emphatically should not be there, and I want it out, now. I want aggressive treatment, and I want it soon.
But I want time to move slowly, because I’m not quite ready yet. I’ve never even broken a bone, and have never been a patient at a hospital or gotten so much as a stitch, so I’m in no hurry to have someone carve a chunk out of my leg. I want to attend my daughter’s soccer game and enjoy it (nope, though, because there was a lot of sun there). I need to get a haircut before I meet with one of the most elite teams of melanoma specialists in the country. I need to mow the lawn. I need to finally run the wires and install the old TV on the wall in the bedroom, before my leg is too sore to convey me into the crawlspace. I want to wash the car, because, you know, the car should be clean.
I lost time when my son was alive, my mind so caught up in preoccupations about the future that I wheeled the cans out a full two days early, before someone kindly pointed it out to me. And yes, I washed the car on the morning of his funeral, because that seemed really important then. My aunt kindly offered to help, but my uncle knew that it was something I needed to do alone.
So I’m as busy around the house as an expectant mom who is ‘nesting’, flitting around to cross projects off the punch-list before It Happens. I’m getting so much done in this bustle that time seems to launch ahead and carry me with it. I tried to download the Tuesday edition of my favorite podcast no less than three times on Monday.
My brain is even faster than my body, rushing ahead to consider possible outcomes and potentialities and problems which might be lurking. My friend Tom, who has triumphed in his own struggles with melanoma, encourages me not to do such things, echoing Jesus who tried to teach us to worry about today, because tomorrow’s troubles are imaginary and also non-actionable. So I try to sit here, in the liminal space of a person who has cancer in his body, which might or might not have spread. The next step is straightforward: try to get it all out, and see if it has spread to my lymph nodes. The doctors tomorrow will look at a double-checked pathology report, rewind my diagnosis to zero, talk to me separately (head of the practice, surgical oncologist, and medical oncologist), then conference among themselves to decide what should happen and when.
Of course I’m worried to death that the cancer has spread, and I’d like to be a little bit ready for that possibility. But I’m also aware that there’s nothing I can do about that now, so I sit. Surrounded– tonight anyway– by a bunch of friends who overlooked my lonely trash cans and sat down to pray for me– prayers for mercy, prayers for healing, prayers of anger, and prayers of complaint on my behalf. Followed by more appeal on my behalf. It is love, so permeating the living room that you swear you can breathe it. Which is as good of a place as I can be.