Over a week ago, I began thinking about “the green mile”—not about the story line from the novel and the subsequent movie but about the meaning associated with those words. “The green mile” seemed to be a good way to convey the fear I was feeling as I waited for the results of my brain MRI.
I am like any prisoner on death row forever at the mercy of their captor. In my case, it is cancer and not the judicial system that has sentenced me; I am not facing this death sentence for any crimes committed, but I am facing death’s permanence. I imagine the fear and despair of a person about to be executed must be similar to mine–at least initially –especially if they are innocent or in the case of victims held by evil people. With every scan, I have no idea if I will get a reprieve or find that my death date has been set.
I don’t think there is a word in the English language that explains adequately how I have felt throughout the last week and the first part of this week. My anxiety about this scan seemed greater than my prior experience with other scans. I am sure this was due to my belief that losing my ability to think or to recognize my family would be the cruelest way to succumb to this disease.
Here are a few synonyms for fear: angst, anxiety, concern, dread, jitters, panic, uneasiness, worry, aversion, agitation, consternation, disquietude, discomposure, faintheartedness, foreboding, presentiment, distress, fright, qualm, trepidation, timidity, chicken heartedness, apprehension.
I feel and have felt all of those words. None, though, are powerful enough to explain my emotions completely. The fear can be paralyzing preventing even the most mundane activity from occurring.
Certainly others not on death row facing a death not associated with old age have also had these same emotions. If you can imagine how the recent men beheaded by the terrorist group called Isis, the holocaust victims, people sacrificed to their gods, young men and women in war, and most recently the woman in Oregon, Brittney Maynard, who plans to take her own life under the “death with dignity” law of that state feel or felt then you have some idea of how I feel.
Physically my breathing seemed shallow; my shoulder and neck muscles were tense; my appetite diminished; my emotions were fragile. I am involved in a game of Russian Roulette. The gun is pointed at me. When the trigger is pulled, will this be the shot fired releasing the bullet within the chamber or will the chamber be empty?
I nearly had myself 100% convinced my breast cancer had spread to my brain. I played the audio over and over in my mind of how I would respond if one of my doctors or nurses called with news of brain metastasis. Somehow, I felt thinking this way would make it easier to cope if it were true. Isn’t there a saying “hope for the best, prepare for the worst”. I may seem like a negative Nellie, but there is always a bit of optimism hidden in my thoughts somewhere. So, some moments I played the other audio in my head. The one where I receive fabulous news that my life can continue on the same course it has been for another 3 months until the next scan.
My nerves were so on edge about the impending phone call I decided to put my phone on silent. I thought not hearing the phone ring would protect me from the full-force of any horrific news. I felt a sense of control by being able to get the news on my terms when I was ready to handle it. I thought I would be able to listen to the voicemail and figure whether it was good or bad news based on the message received. If I was told to call to discuss the results, I would know it was bad. If a good message was left, my fears would be relieved without having talked to anyone.
For two days, I left my phone on silent. Every so often I would pick up my phone and look for my missed phone calls and voice messages. Monday, in late afternoon, a missed phone call appeared. My heart raced. I clicked the unlock button and viewed the call. It was my husband. I took a few deep breaths to relieve my panic. The hours moved on and no phone call came about my MRI. I was convinced it must be bad news. In my experience, bad news always comes late in the day when a doctor has no more patients to see, and he/she sits down at their desk and starts returning or making phone calls.
This whole week I grieved because of the things I have not finished. I haven’t written the letters to my loved ones I want to write (I am finding those so hard to begin) or finished little projects around the house. Most importantly, my youngest is only 11 –still too young to lose her mother.
On Tuesday, phone still on silent, I went outside with my daughter to practice tennis, leaving the phone on the counter. Once finished with our fun, I walked in the house and passed the phone several times. When I finally had the courage to look at my phone, I saw that a new voicemail message appeared on the screen. My daughter retreated to the back porch sparring herself of any bad news I might hear.
“Can I do this?” I said to myself. “I have to”.
I accessed my voice mail. My nurse practitioner began to speak with not such an enthusiastic tone in her voice. I listened.
Then I hear . . .
“Lisa, I am looking at your scan right now. It appears to be clean”, the nurse practitioner said.
Good news CAN come late!
I paced the floor and listened to the rest of her words.
I retrieved my daughter from the back porch. “Good news”, I screamed. We hugged and jumped up and down for probably 10 minutes.
I am not dying today, and I am not dying tomorrow. I am walking “the green mile”, but it is a long walk for now.