Here we are in the waiting room at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. It's a nice place, but I hate hospitals, always have. I certainly could never work in one — so many sick people, so many sad people. Most of all, I hate being one of them. I could hardly force myself into this waiting room filled with at least 50 women, all at different stages of cancer. Some show no signs; others have lost all their hair. Some are desperately thin and frail; others bloated with edema in their arms and legs. At first I wanted to turn and run away. Now I'm noticing a lady across from me, with a bright pink scarf around her bald head. Slumped on the floor by her feet is a pink-and-white quilted tote bag embroidered with the words “Cancer Sucks.” I point it out to John, then speak to her. “I love your bag.” She laughs, “Everyone does. My best friend made it for me.”
“Well, she should make a bunch more,” I laugh too. “They'd sell better than Rogaine around here.” 3 p.m. My appointment time was two hours ago, and I'm still cooling my heels here, with no word why, so I'm getting a little testy. The workers here are all very kind and solicitous, which for me makes it worse, not better. I am facing the unknown — a whole new world of scary possibilities and choices, a minefield I somehow have to cross. I need to do this my way, with the help of my husband, and maybe my mother or best friend. I don't need anyone else, except the best doctors. I especially don't need a bunch of smiling strangers paid to reassure me. I'm not stupid. There is nothing to smile about. Just give it to me straight and be quick about it. Information, advice, options … bring them on. I can deal with those. People are the challenge. The ones here are as bad as every other person in Central Florida. I don't need comfort and support from every woman who has ever had breast cancer, just one or two, maybe. I feel like shouting, “Don't smother me with sympathy. Don't spout Bible verses at me.” I already know them all. I need to handle this my way. I need to know that it's me handling it, not a committee of “survivors” who never cared to even know me before. Now they're all clamoring to share their experiences and teach me coping skills I already know. If this disease is going to change my life, and especially if it's going to shorten it, I need every moment I have left to just live. I refuse to spend one precious minute in self-pity or emoting with some group of sympathizing quasi-strangers. I've noticed people around town and even at my church looking askance at me or nudging a friend and whispering. I can't hear what they're saying but I'm pretty sure it's something like, “There's that lady who has cancer. I feel sorry for her.” I hate that. I'm not just a walking disease. I am still me, a person, and there's a whole lot more to me than this cancer. 5 p.m. I just reread all of the above. It sounds smug and stupid. Tomorrow, no doubt, I'll feel completely different about life and this whole journey into night. And yet, sitting here in the waiting room at Moffitt, four hours past my appointment time, it is how I feel. God help me. I hate myself right now.