I take a sleeping pill the night before the visit with the Head and Neck radiologist/oncologist at Princess Margaret. I get the best sleep I’ve gotten since I was pregnant with the twins. Neither of them wake up during the night, so I didn’t even feel guilty foisting them onto Kevin.
Calliope has been fussy lately. She’s cutting a tooth, but she’s also been waking up hungry at odd times. Her cry is different when she’s hungry, although the fussing from bedtime until about 10 p.m. is confusing.
The babies are so exhausting. I love them so much, but two babies are exhausting, mentally, physically.
I take an Ativan as we drive into the city. There’s no good way to the hospitals. We skip the DVP, which is usually a mess during rush hour–or, well, any time of day, honestly–but that means we have to go down a busy Toronto street. It’s stressful merely sitting in the passenger side. We’re running late again, even though we left an hour and a half before the appointment. Kevin drops me at the door, and I go in.
I breathe in deep, look around.
It’s not what I expect. It’s busier than I expected somehow. The building seems small, cloistered, almost like it was re-purposed from something other than a hospital. I try not to let the thought slip out, but it does: Everyone is here because of cancer.
There’s a huge line near the door. I turn to see if it’s perhaps for Information–no. Tim Horton’s.
It makes me smile. At least one thing is normal in this sea of strangeness that is my life.
I go up to the second floor. I ask for Dr. Brown. He’s not working today, says the harried-looking receptionist behind the desk. “I’m supposed to see someone here today.” The panic is rising; my voice is rising.
“Dr. Cho is taking his patients,” she says. “Put your health card in the box.” It’s a clear box with a slit in the top.
She has me fill out paperwork. What medications am I on? What kind of pain am I having?
I wait. Kevin comes in almost half an hour after the appointment time, but I still haven’t been seen.
Finally, a nurse ushers me in. She takes my weight. I thought I was losing, but I’m not. That’s good, right? It means my body is fighting. The last thing I need right now is to worry about vanity, but I can’t help but wonder why I haven’t lost any baby weight yet. Stop it. I don’t need that right now.
My anxiety is high. The butterflies are mean today. The room has an exam chair with that crinkly paper over it. There’s a glass jar full of weird-looking plastic implements; clearly they’re disposable, but I can’t figure out their purpose. To look in the nose? Ears? Someone has drawn Ziggy on the whiteboard with the words, “I was here!” I take a picture and post it on Instagram. I send it to my dad because he likes to draw that.
Dr. Cho comes in. He’s Asian and possibly my age. The older I get, the harder it is to tell.
My age. What have I done with my life? He’s saving patients on a daily basis, and I’m…
I don’t even know. What is the sum of my life?
It’s like there’s a buzzing in my ears. There’s not, but my anxiety is so high I can’t hear most of what he says over the flapping of the butterflies. He examines my mouth. He asks about my pain.
“I would normally do radiation based on your symptoms,” he explains, “but there’s a set amount of radiation the human body can take. I think we should save it for now in case there’s another spot more urgent. It’s up to you, though.”
“Yes,” I say. “Save it.”
He blinks at me. He seems rather disconnected, like he doesn’t expect his patients to speak. Perhaps that’s just me, though. I am having trouble not vomiting. It makes for a disconnected experience with the outside world.
“Have you seen your CT scan results?” he asks.
“No.” I’m anxious to know that everything is all right. I’ve convinced myself everything is all right. There’s nothing else wrong with me. Two tumors, that’s all–well, three, because there are two in my breast.
He explains that there’s a portal I can go online to check with all the information about my visits. I am impatient to move this along. “Yes, ok,” I say. “I don’t have any login information yet.”
“We’ll get it to you,” he says. “Now, based on the CT scan, you have a tumor on your liver and some along your spine–”
I stare at him in horror.
The room is.
The world is.
I grab Kevin’s hand. I try to speak. I burst into tears.
Dr. Cho says, “Oh. I see this has upset you. Let me give you a moment.”
Later, I find this hilarious in a Cards-Against-Humanity-esque way. OH, I SEE THAT CANCER SPREADING TO VITAL ORGANS HAS UPSET YOU. So his disconnection from his patients isn’t just my imagination.
He turns to Kevin. I’m wailing, I think. I don’t know what’s happening. The room isn’t spinning. It should be spinning, shouldn’t it? They keep talking. I can’t hear them. I don’t know if I’m crying. I don’t know if I’m sitting in shock. I don’t know what’s happening.
“Are you having headaches?”
No, I’m not.
He says I need a brain scan just in case. I don’t care, get me a brain scan, get me all the scans, just make this fucking nightmare end.
The nurse comes in. When did Dr. Cho leave?
I clutch at Kevin. “I don’t want to leave,” I say. “My babies. I don’t want to leave my babies.”
It’s not coming out of my mouth coherently. The nurse says, “You don’t have to leave. You can stay here as long as you need.” She’s so compassionate. I can tell this is upsetting her. I don’t care really. I mean, I do. What the fuck am I saying? Of course I care. I don’t want to upset anyone, no matter how upset I myself am.
I can’t stop panicking.
“No,” I say. “That’s not–”
“You want me to leave?” She gets up to go.
“No, no, come back. My babies! I don’t want to…”
I’m sitting outside the bathroom, waiting for Kevin. Somehow we’ve made it out of the room. I start crying again.
The nurse appears. She hugs me. I clutch at her shoulders, crying. There is an older couple two chairs down. I wonder what they think of me. I wonder if I’m upsetting them.
“You’re in the right place,” she says. “We’ll get you over the breast clinic. Dr. Cho is going to send an urgent message to get someone to see you. You’re in the right place for this. One step at a time.”
One step at a time. One step at a time.
I’m so tired of crying. All day, crying as Kevin got me sour cream Timbits and a pumpkin spice latte. Crying as we walked a city block to the car. Crying as I sat in the car and stared out the window at the cab in front of us. “CANcer BE BEATEN,” says the bumper sticker.
That you, Herman?
I don’t hear him respond. I’m crying too hard.
I finally run out of tears sometime mid-afternoon.
We’re home. We’ve eaten dinner. It’s time for the babies to get ready for bed.
Kevin has a knack for disappearing at times like that. I don’t think he does it on purpose, but he did it a few times when they were newborns. It would be time for feeding, and he would be outside talking with a neighbor, and I would be freaking out with two crying babies. My anxiety makes it worse than it is.
Tonight is the same. It’s bedtime, and I need to get them ready, but my eyes hurt and my head hurts and even the slightest fuss out of each of them sends my emotions into overdrive.
I dress Calliope. I put her in the crib. I take her diaper to the diaper genie. The liner has reached the end of the roll, so it’s fallen inside.
I throw the diaper on the ground. It explodes, sending blue, crystalline bits skittering across the faux hardwood floor in the hallway.
I scream. I cry.
Kevin comes in. I grab him, weeping. “Why did you abandon me?” I shriek. I can’t calm down. I can’t make myself calm down.
He scurries Morrigan into our bedroom to watch Paw Patrol. The babies are crying. I can’t stop crying. He shuts the bedroom door so she can’t see her mother having a mental breakdown.
I know I’m scaring them. I can’t stop. I can’t stop.
I go into the extra bedroom.
I lay down on the bed in the corner.
I curl up into a ball, and I weep.