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The Dos and Don'ts of Waiting on Cancer Test Results


Whoever said there's no way to make time stand still clearly never had to endure the excruciating wait for scan results.

“Time is not a thing that passes ... it's a sea on which you float.”

- Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood

Whoever said there's no way to make time stand still clearly never had to endure the excruciating wait for scan results. In an age of instant everything, cancer patients being told that the data from the cutting edge technology that is creating real-time images of our innards will be available in anything less than a nanosecond defies logic and seems unnecessarily cruel.

I underwent a PET scan last Thursday. And I'm here to assure all naysayers out there that not only did time stand still, but it even moved backward.

Immediately upon leaving the mobile scan machine, it was once again 2009 and I was walking out of my first CT scan trying to read the faces of the technicians who had monitored the process. What did they see? Could I tell from the demeanor whether or not the results were good or bad? What were they not telling me? It was déjà vu all over again, including the numbness in my toes— a sure sign that my brain was calling on all blood cells.

During these frozen moments in time, it’s hard to think about plans for a future that may not be. We’re told that at this present moment, it is the focus at the heart of the meditation/mindfulness movement that promises to end mental anguish. As a believer and meditation teacher, however, I am here to tell you that if that moment is wrapped in a cocoon of worry about whether or not you have to go through chemo and radiation therapies again, then the “oh no!” factor is like walking across hot coals with gasoline shoes.

When the word finally came that the scan showed no changes, aka, “you get to live a little longer,” I was literally stunned by relief. It was as if the movie of my life had been kicked out of freeze frame and I was back in the flow. Sitting back down to lunch with my wife, who, as a result of my taking the call outside so as to not cause a scene in the restaurant, should one be necessary, was in a state of panic, we ate as if it were our last, and first, meal. There was a strange silence between us as if the celebration of life had been rained on by the unnecessary struggle with uncertainty over the last four days. We did manage a toast to health, and once again cursed the evil bastards who, in my cynical mind, think nothing of taunting those of us challenged by cancer with our very survivorship.

Settling back into what is now my “new normal,” I decided I would create a “Do and Don’t” list for the next time I’m faced with the deafening silence of waiting on test results:

Don’t — Sit still. This is not a time for seated meditation on the nature of your breath.

Do — Move. Get off your butt and put your body in motion. Remember, it’s harder for bad news to hit a moving target.

Don’t — Stop planning for the future, including what you’re going to have for dinner.

Do — Realize that all of our planning, cancer or no cancer, is based on the assumption that we’re going to be around in the future.

Don’t — Waste any time trying to feel where in the body your cancer has mostly likely returned.

Do — Remember that if you could self-diagnose, you’d have magic powers that you could sell over the Internet.

Don’t — Make promises to whatever higher power you believe is in charge of the universe that you will make wholesale changes to your life in return for a good test result. Reneging on a promise to the big “I am” is bad karma.

Do — Make a promise to yourself to use your time (however much that is) to bring joy, lightness and ease into your life and the lives of all those you touch.

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