Ah, my first day of being a cancer patient.
While my shiny new diagnosis code was already sitting in my medical record, this was my first day at the specialty hospital. The one you hope to never find yourself in when you’re 25.
I rushed to and from my appointments which started at 8 am, and thankfully ended later at 5 pm. To say I was exhausted and overwhelmed is an understatement, but that day always stands out for a different reason.
Wearing my wristband with the almighty medical record number that I had yet to memorize, It was clear that I, not my mother, was the reason we were here. As I walked to the front desk to check in, a fellow patient noticed this. She promptly turned to her side and spoke to the person with her. She covered her mouth like a middle school girl gossiping as she whispered “She’s the patient” and watched me until I sat down. It became clear early on that I was viewed as no average cancer patient, and would be treated as such.
Somewhere between denial and bargaining, I made my way to the next appointment. I changed into the standard stiff hospital gown, sat in a cold recliner chair touching my semi-exposed back, with the warm blanket on my legs. The juxtaposition of that very moment was a commentary on what my soul was experiencing. I did everything I could to not be present during that moment.
The kind staff handed me as many age-appropriate magazines they could gather, an olive branch of acknowledgment for my situation if you will. Young adults are rare in the wild here after all. I flipped through the wedding planning (I learned my wedding “aesthetic” is a mix of rustic and mountain), and fashion magazines. I happened to land on a picture of Sofia Vergara, arguably the most famous thyroid cancer survivor, and that quickly brought me back to reality. I could hope all I wanted that my treatments, which were yet to be determined, would make me as fabulous as her, but the path ahead was unpaved and unknown.
Finally, I took a breath, and pulled the now significantly less warm blanket to my chin. Acceptance is a journey, and there I took my first step. No more distractions, it was finally time to surrender. Surrender to the present moment, the future ahead, and whatever was beyond that. My mom always says God can handle whatever we’re feeling, and I decided exercise that option. I spoke these words timidly, but truthfully:
“Hey God, it’s me again, Alexa! Isn’t it weird how I’m talking to You like THIS? Like some sort of classic pre-teen novel? That’s how you know I’m messed up right now. Look, I know we’ve been through a lot together. I mean, I faced paralysis and nerve damage before this, but we got through it. Even if it was against all odds. I feel so ashamed even asking this of You, you know, with that whole thing I just mentioned? I should have zero doubt, but I do.
Please help me. I don’t see You here today, in fact, I don’t see You anywhere. I can’t do this by myself, and I need to have assurance that You are here with me, here in this hospital, right now. If You would extend Your grace to me, and show me that You’re with me, I know I can do this.”
Before an Amen, the technician called my name. I made my way to the cold, dark room and lay where may others have. As my eyes moved around my surroundings, I knew in my heart that I felt better by simply voicing my feelings to God. I made it through my scan with many more appointments to go.
I walked back out to my mom in the waiting room, printed schedule in hand, and desperately needing her assistance with my next stop on the chaos train. As we journeyed together, the sound of a grand piano filled the large lobby. I couldn’t believe my ears, so I paused for a brief moment, as brief as my schedule would allow. A hospital volunteer was playing a song, titled Simple Gifts.
To the people sitting around for this lovely distraction, I’m sure they loved the music. But for me, it was something else entirely. Simple Gifts is a song I always sang in my head during any type of medical procedure I had in the past. If I had an MRI, it replayed in my mind multiple times. It was an easy song to remember, plus a great antidote to pain and anxiety. I never told a soul this, not even my mom! She has never heard the song either. It was my little secret, and God was the only one who knew. Because of all my fear and racing thoughts throughout the day, I hadn’t thought about the song all day.
Tears filled my eyes as I kept on walking to make the next appointment. But I got the message, and my spirit filled with a familiar assurance that I needed. I’m almost 4 years out from this exact date, and it still hits my heart hard.
I talk about butterflies, a lot. They are the symbol of thyroid cancer for starters, but also a great mascot for all in the cancer community. A beautiful butterfly did not start out that way. The former caterpillar had to struggle breaking free from the cocoon just for the strength to fly, something butterflies do with ease. There were many quiet, lonely moments in their cocoon that nobody witnessed. I just shared one of mine! While we all love to admire the beautiful and finished process of the metamorphosis, we tend to forget what it took to reach this completion.
I don’t know what the exact moments in your metamorphosis have been, or will be. Life, with or without cancer, is filled with them. May I provide a Simple Gifts encouragement to you, dear friend? I want to celebrate you! You, yes, you were present with feelings you never vocalized and kept closely to your heart. You were present with pain, of all types. You were present in your tears. After all you have been through, you are, and are still becoming, something beautiful.
I see you, I acknowledge the dark times, and today I rejoice in your present metamorphosis!
All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer. If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you! Please submit your idea at https://www.elephantsandtea.com/contact/submissions/.