Recently one of Bernie’s (favorite) patients was diagnosed with recurrent, metastatic breast cancer. He’s been at this job for nearly a decade but this news is always a punch in the stomach. And now, we can’t possibly distance ourselves with a we’ll-keep-her-in-our-prayers-and-now-there’s-laundry-to-fold way. Nancy described it like this:
“It must be surreal for the two of you to be pressed so close to the glass between what man can do and God’s plan.”
I keep returning to Hester Hill Schnipper’s* mantra for those diagnosed with disseminated Cancer: “it’s not curable, but it’s treatable.” While I focus on the hope of that statement—that medicines (poisons) can keep this vibrant, beautiful mom around for a long, long time—Bernie reviews the entire case for reassurances that The Team didn’t fail her. Did the surgeons, oncologists, and radiologists have the best plan? Is her cancer unusual, receptor negative, aggressive, (or in all ways unlike mine)? But the real nagging question is, “Why didn’t anyone cc God on the plan? Why isn’t God on the damn Team?” Zealot Sister may have answers for this… but I don’t.
I met her in Costco. Only days after the pathology report sentenced me to months of surgeries and baldness, Bernie and I took our prepare-for-the-Armageddon shopping list to the superstore. Bulk buying has never failed to improve the mood of my husband, and grocery preparedness seemed like a better plan for the day than putting on the brave face for the kids. As our carts met mid-aisle at the canned corn, Bernie’s former patient recognized her doctor, and after introductions I was given the usual spiel of Bernie-gratitude that I never tire of hearing. But she could sense something was wrong. So right there, under the eyes of a hundred Jolly Green Giants, I told this complete (to me) stranger, that I was about to be a patient in the same office that treated her. More hugs, tears, and assurances that life would eventually return to normal. She had long, gorgeous hair. She pointed to her over-sized cart that was brimming with all of the provisions for a teenage sleepover at her house. She was Survival in Skinny Jeans, proof of a fun-filled life down the road. And now for this lively, pretty lady who was so quick to share this-is-scary tears with me at Costco… all of that surgery and chemo didn’t keep her Cancer away.
I think all of us here in Pink Ribbonville try (and often fail) to keep tears at bay when someone new is diagnosed. It’s part of our Welcome Wagon package. The news dredges up all of the terror, pain, cold, and loss I don’t want anyone else to experience. Now as a new Cancer Veteran, I occasionally entertain the notion that a cosmic card has already been punched. At the very least I have a two-year Jury Duty served kind of exclusion? But the real possibility of recurrence, or (in Hester’s case) a second primary tumor, or the death sentence of metastatic disease looms for all of us. Recently, as this crappy news cast a large shadow over Bernie and me, and Maria, and the rest of the Team of Doctors who are caring for this lovely lady, I need to believe that God is on the Team. Of course he’s in on the plan: He scripts The Plan. And maybe Zealot Sister has answers for the then why? Why? WHY?… but I don’t.