Living With Cancer: The Deafening Silence Between Checkups


Waiting for that next office visit can be stressful.

I am a cancer survivor without an oncologist at the moment.

This was my choice, as my original doctor “retired” to spend more time with her two young children. I had plenty of notice and was not overly concerned by the prospect of delaying my ultrasound or mammogram for a month or two beyond the usual schedule. But now, 10 months have passed. From the day of my breast cancer diagnosis, I decided that my preference for my own health care would be to have a female oncologist, especially since male breast cancer is extremely rare and no reliable studies have been made to determine the best protocol for treatment. I simply trust a woman’s intuition and expertise in the area of breast cancer—for any gender.

I have nothing against male doctors by the way. My osteopath in Hawaii, a wonderful man, insisted that I have my first mammogram after detecting the small bump on my left breast. I would have waited—and probably for a long time. He very likely saved my life.

So when my oncologist closed shop, I made a conscious decision to wait until her replacement, another female doctor, was brought in. The time it would take to get her office up and running was greatly underestimated by Arizona Oncology, the group that provides my breast cancer health care. And after a series of delays, I got the news that my insurance had not yet been approved for the new doctor. Again, I decided to wait.

It got me thinking about the time we spend between cancer checkups. You might think that the good news of “no evidence of disease” would be the best possible thing we could hear. But is this true? Are these months and weeks with no news the best times for those of us with cancer in our history?

Do we ever really feel secure, peaceful and confident that we are cancer-free? Can we ever feel it?

It seems odd that the “quiet time” between checkups can be riddled with such apprehension. I suppose those first few days, and possibly weeks after we receive a clean bill of health (or at least an encouraging one) are the best moments of peace we get. Then our brains begin to do their busy work and suddenly, empty space becomes volatile space. We go into a holding pattern, like a rocket on the launch pad, waiting to hear the final countdown to our next good checkup.

This is what I’ve learned to do.

In my case it’s often about meditation—sitting quietly with my cancer. How else can we hope to silence the incessant chatter? And in that moment, I always find the same, reliable space to bring me back home. I've discovered that the key to finding tranquility for me is in looking at a much bigger picture of my cancer — way beyond the disease itself. It’s in filling the “waiting time” between checkups with all of the things that are important to me: writing, music, friends, my kittens, sports, laughter—which make that empty window of waiting and worry fill up until there’s simply no more room for anything else.

And this works well for the most part until that square on my calendar that says “see oncologist” shows up and I brace for another round of tests. And this, of course, is what frustrates most of us cancer survivors. The number one fear, according to the experts, I heard, is in not knowing what’s in store for us. Letting go of control in our lives is no easy matter. And yet, each and every cancer survivor is obligated to do just that. And so I’ve come to realize that “not knowing” with regard to my cancer is actually a case of “never knowing” since none of us it seems can see the future.

When I finally accept that no amount of thought, hope, desire or ESP is ever going to allow me see my cancer beyond today with any degree of accuracy, I free myself up to return to the task at hand—surviving and living to the fullest.

Perhaps silence really is golden.

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