The Cancer Journals: The Clearing

This week, Sheelagh shares her anxious wait to hear back from her doctor about her post-chemo MRI.


How long can I hold my breath, both physically and metaphorically, before the urge to exhale finally overwhelms me ?

I am lying on my back in the Cancer Clinic’s MRI machine with what looks like, for all the world, a leather bondage corset strapped tightly around my midriff. I am hemmed in on all sides by the pale glow of the MRI’s circular enclosure.

I can’t move; I can’t see out; I can’t get out on my own.

Through headphones, the disembodied voice of the technician, instructs me to breathe deeply in and out and in again and hold for 30 sec. I readily comply, as I am just grateful to hear her dispassionate voice.

The magnets in the MRI make various disconcerting sounds dependent on the images required. I differentiate them as ‘ jack hammer’, ‘car alarm’, ‘fog horn’ and ‘rapid heart beat’. The ‘heartbeat’ is the only faintly reassuring sound, but I am trapped in an anxious womb.

I realize there is an under current of hysteria bubbling just below the surface of my psyche which, if I give into to it, will result in my banging on the stifling dome enveloping me, yelling to be let out. I’m rational enough to know this will merely result in the re-booking of the test and a delay in the anticipated diagnosis of liver metastasis.

My rational mind looks for and finds a solution; my ‘safe place’, which the hypnotherapist helped me envision. I go there mentally and picture every small detail of the room. Usually in this comforting room, the sheer curtains are fluttering in a gentle breeze. I notice they are billowing on this visit, almost enveloping me.

I will be informed of the test results and their repercussions during my next clinic visit. I have arranged for a supportive friend to be with me. I do not want to hear this news alone. One of the oncologists has been quite clear that the unusual mass seen on my liver CT scan is indeed cancer and will demand excision of the right lobe. The other oncologist is experienced enough to tread more, but has a tendency to call one’s home immediately with test results – scheduled appointment or not. I consciously try to block any calls the following day by phoning anyone I’ve ever met in my life.

It doesn’t work.

“How are you?” the oncologist earnestly enquires. “I don’t know,” I anxiously reply. “How am I?”
“You’re good!” he replies. And so this particular crisis is over. Just like that. “You’re good.” Two or three words depending on how you want to count them.

The oncologist meets with me and my friend at the Clinic and we go over the MRI details. He removes my central line, my “badge of authenticity,” with such gentleness, respect and compassion that I find it hard not to weep in gratitude.

Now a three-month wait, devoid of chemo, but not it’s lingering side effects, before the next set of CT scans and a colonoscopy begin. They need to see what the cancer does without the chemo.

And now it is as if I’m in a forest clearing. Sunlight begins to filter through the canopy hurting my eyes. It’s time to rest this exhausted body, take my bearings and try once again to find my way out of these woods.

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