Monday, December 28, 2009

It Could Always Suck Worse

When Denny lets go of frustration, he says, "It could always suck worse."  In our first year together I didn't get it.  How is knowing that something could be worse supposed to make a bad thing better?

Thirteen years ago, the month before Denny and I married, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I was lucky on both counts,  to marry Denny and catch the cancer early, although finding out I had cancer didn't feel lucky.

The cancer was invasive and fast-growing and the doctors prescribed radiation and chemotherapy after the operation.  I'm fine now, been cancer-free since treatment.  But that first year, I lived with pain and anguish and I searched for ways to cope while my body and emotions broke from the regimen.

The first day of radiation, I stood in line to check in.  I didn't know where to go or what to do or how it would feel when it was my turn.  And in the back of my mind was the fear that no matter what I did it wouldn't be enough and the cancer wouldn't disappear and I'd die.

Later I'd learn we're all dying, sick people and healthy people alike.  Just some people are dying faster than others and wake up with that knowledge every morning. While the rest wake up believing they have years and wondering what they'll eat for breakfast.

I shifted from one foot to the other, watching the receptionist, trying to keep my stomach from spitting back my morning toast.  I didn't want to be there and I didn't want to wait in line.  It was bad enough that I'd have to lay near-naked in a cold room on a metal table with my pitiful breast exposed to  death rays from a looming machine.  I had to wait for the privilege?  What was holding up the blankety-blank line?  I craned my head to see around the man in front of me, a tall blond guy with an athletic build.

As each patient left the line we shuffled forward a few steps.  It probably didn't take long but in my memory it was forever.  Finally the guy in front of me made it to the counter.  The woman checked the registry and gave him a piece of paper.   He thanked her and stepped away.

I looked up as he turned.  A white plastic triangle covered the cavity in his face where his nose should have been.

My mind flashed. "Thank god I had breast cancer."

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

10 comments :

Meredith Bell said...

Very powerful post, Kathleen. Important message told well. Thank you for this vital reminder about life, death, and our own circumstances.

Ms. Moon said...

Thank-you for that one.

TexasDeb said...

Working as I did managing a practice for a brain surgeon, I learned - the hard way - the truth you've uncovered so tenderly in this post.

Lives change in an instant from that dying slow to dying fast state of awareness, and sometimes, with grace or luck or skill or some combination, they change back. At least for a while.

Your post is an amazing way to start a week. Thank you so much for the honest reminder of how to live while dying. Fast OR slow.

phd in yogurtry said...

Oh yes. None of us wants to learn the lesson in quite the same manner as you, but I certainly appreciate you sharing your experience. I do use the "it could be worse" cognitive strategy often. Very often.

And I'm so glad you are a survivor.

deb said...

It's so true isn't it.

Thank you for sharing a bit of that nightmare in a way that still leaves room . For the gratitude.
Not everyone would have seen as your eyes did.

Richard Gilbert said...

Thank you for this powerful post. It is always so hard for most of us to remember that death is all around, and then we lose someone, or are at conscious risk ourselves.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

I am so sorry you had to go through that, Kathleen, but I sure as hell am glad you are still among us.

Love you. Happy New Year!!

Linda/patchwork said...

We often forget this truth. Thanks for the reminder.
We all need to remember we're all dying, from the minute we're born.
Some die way too fast...gone in a flash. Some, painfully slowly.
We can only hope for something in between.
I'm glad you're still here, and cancer free.

Honey B said...

Isn't it totally amazing how many decades one can live without giving human frailty as much as a backward glance?
Maybe that is our yearly xmas present.
Until suddenly it doesn't work any longer and worry sets in with a vengeance.

Paula said...

Great writing, Kathleen, as usual. We're all so glad you're here among us and that we're here, too.
Let's all try to make it through 2010!