By Barbara Ewan, Skyline editor
What does tomorrow mean to you? Is it just another day? Are you putting something off until tomorrow? Are you excited about the upcoming day? Are you dreading it?
Do any of us actually realize how much value the single word, tomorrow, holds?
Let me tell you about my day, tomorrow. I will wake early. I have been waiting—for what feels like an eternity—for tomorrow. Sometimes, it seems as though time stands still, and the day will never come. I anticipate tomorrow and am filled with confused emotions.
Fear: What will be my fate? Will I make it on time?
Sadness: How will I tell my loved ones?
Positivity: It is nothing. I am fine.
But, I have a lingering feeling in my gut. The closer we get to tomorrow, the sicker I begin to feel. I try to stay strong—I do not want to break or show weakness; I cannot scare my family like this. If I lose it, I may never bring myself back.
Breathe. Stay strong. My dad always said to me, “Mija, my daughter, stay strong.”
Well, tomorrow arrives to the inevitable today. I feel sick from worry. I have slept alright but woke before the early morning alarm. Embracing the quiet time, I sink into thoughts and sip on the smooth, rich flavor of coffee. But my mind wanders to inevitable panic: Will today will be my last “normal” day? I wonder. What should I wear? Does it really matter? Will today bring relief? Sadness? Anger, perhaps?
I just don’t know; I cannot even begin to guess what today will bring, because I have never felt what having cancer might be like. I say a quick and silent prayer that I will not find out.
My husband hugs me just a little bit longer than usual before he leaves for work. I whisper, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I just want you to know I love you so much,” he replies, his head bent to mine. I can see the fear in his eyes and worry on his face. He is trying to be strong for me.
I kiss him, reassure him that it is going to be alright. “I will call you with the good news, as soon as I get it,” I say, hoping not to break.
The drive to Midland from Alpine is a good distraction. It is a gloomy day, and, as the car speeds away from the mountain landscape toward the hospitals of the Permian Basin, the world feels more and more calm. Suddenly, I am not as fearful of what today will bring. Whatever it is, I will have an answer.
I make a lot of personal vows on this long drive to the hospital this morning. I know, also, that whatever happens, I will greet each day here on out with kindness and peace. I will be more thankful for everything and everyone around me. I will kiss my sons more often and hold my husband longer. I will be more empathetic to others around me and embrace all those who pass me with a warm, loving smile. Anger will be an emotion of the past and my feeling like the victim of a cruel game will no longer be my part to play. These are many intentions and, one might suggest, panic-induced. But, I know in my heart I mean them and will internalize and carry them as the mantras for my life—whatever this life brings today.
After I check in, I sit and wait with my family. I look around at how loved and truly lucky I am to have them here. My son, Huckson, sits next to me quietly entertaining himself. A nurse comes to the door of the waiting room and calls my name. A lightning strike of nerves shoots through my body. Looking up, I say, “Okay, here we go.”
I close my laptop, hug and kiss my family before making my way to meet the nurse, who is patiently waiting for me. She smiles kindly and shows me to a small, cold room. She instructs me to take my top and bra off and put on a hospital gown with only one top snap. Lovely, I think, but return to not thinking about discomforts.
From there, I go into another still-cold room with large machines. I am moved around like a doll as my body is examined for what I fear is hiding and lurking inside. The medical staff is quite professional, making me feel as comfortable as one could possibly be in this situation. The whole process is quick and surprisingly painless.
I realize, almost laughing, that I had half-expected something to come down and smash my body like a grilled cheese sandwich. Thank gosh, that didn’t happen.
I am back in my little cubicle. The nurse says, “Keep the smock on and just hang out until we let you know what to do further.” She leaves me to take the x-rays to the doctor. “We will see if the doctor needs more images or if you need to go on to radiology.” The door shuts.
I sit and wait. I come to the conclusion that a good portion of this whole process is to stay calm . . . and wait. I try to free my mind of negative outcomes, but it is hard. I am feeling optimistic, but the nagging realization that, even at times when I have felt good about life, the outcome at times ends not so great. I fixate on a time in school when I took an exam for a class. After, I had felt good and confident that I at least scored ninety percent. When my results came back, I was astonished to see a sixty-six staring in my face, mocking my confidence. I panic a bit as I realize this might be a ninety/sixty moment for me. A “D” when I really need an “A.”
A lovely older woman comes to my room. “My name is Charlotte and I am here to take you for an ultrasound,” she says quietly.
“I am freezing,” I say, realizing that I am shivering from more than nerves.
Charlotte pulls a warm blanket from something that looks like a lunchroom oven. We go into another room filled with machines, and Charlotte instructs me to lie down on the bed. Charlotte then covers me with the warm blanket. I just melt in the sensation. “Try to relax, Charlotte tells me. “Place your right arm over your head,” she says. I feel a hot goo on my skin, and she rolls a hand-held device all around. She pushes, then clicks an image.
I strain to discern what she is looking at, but it looks only like television static to me. I soon give up and close my eyes. The warmth from the blanket sooths my mind. Before long, Charlotte is finished and I am returned to the cold room. “At least this time, I am left with a half-warm blanket,” I think.
Again, I wait, once again trying to occupy my mind, because I know the next knock at the door will bring results. I feel like this is the longest wait of my life. I want to curl up into a ball under the blanket and sleep, as though none of this were happening, pretend that, when I wake up, I’ll be in my cozy bed, with my loving husband by my side comforting me. “It was just a bad dream,” he will say.
“Mija, stay strong,” says my dad to my soul.
Charlotte knocks on the cubicle door. She holds a piece of paper in her hand and tells me with a warm smile, “Honey, you’re all done. Everything checked out, and I don’t see anything for concern. The lump you are feeling is filled with fluid, but it’s nothing to worry about. You may get dressed now.”
I am elated with joy. Tears fill my eyes, Shaking and almost unable to breathe, I grab my phone to FaceTime my husband, tell him the good news. I can see his eyes tearing up in relief, too. “Such great news today” he says. “Thank God.”
Out in the waiting room, my mom greets me with a big hug as I tell her “I’m going to be alright.” She hugs me again. My son, Huck, and my dad are killing time in the truck. I get out of that hospital as quick as possible and run across the parking lot to tell them the good news, as well. “Oh, thank gosh, mija. You’re going to be okay,” my dad sighs.
I still must tell my son, Corey, who has not traveled to the hospital, the great news. I text him that I am well, there is no cancer.
He replies, “That’s awesome!”
That night, I enjoy life, relaxed and filled with more love than I have ever felt before. I eat pizza without a care in the world, laugh whole-heartedly at my family’s silliness, and sip some delicious wine as we all sit on the couch to watch a movie. I contemplate all of those promises I made earlier on the drive north to Midland. I am here with my family, safe and healthy in Alpine. I am blessed with a family and the opportunity to finish college, and realize I will keep these pledges.
I snuggle a bit tighter against my boys, wrapping a blanket warmly around me. Today offered the perfect ending to what turned out to be, to quote my son, Corey, an awesome day. I will strive for all tomorrows to reach for the same happiness.