Tag Archives: waiting

Waiting for the biopsy results

26 Feb Some things are too scary for words. And can be found at Home Depot. (photo by Alexandra HH)
Some things are too scary for words. And can be found at Home Depot. (photo by Alexandra HH)

Some things are too scary for words. And can be found at Home Depot. (photo by Alexandra HH)

It is 12:56. And I am waiting to find out the results of my latest biopsy. This is such a familiar feeling. Unfortunately. What is it like out to find out if your future will be scrambled? At this point, I have had so many biopsies that haven’t been actual cancer (though a number have yielded results dangerous enough to require surgery and I am permanently in a high risk zone) that I have developed certain coping skills that get me through the waiting periods and the painful tests without too much emotional scarring. I have cultivated a certain pleasant blankness that includes focusing on the moment I’m living in and doing whatever little task I have at hand, and cutting myself off from making long range plans. It is only sometimes, at unexpected moments, when the darkness completely eclipses the light and I start to sob and shake so hard that I don’t even know what I’m afraid of—is it the helplessness? is it the pain? Is it death? Or is it being tortured to death? I sob and my poor husband stands by, thinking he’s not being helpful when really, he is. By not running away, by witnessing my sadness, he most definitely is. And then, I stop, and we watch Downton Abbey, and try to figure out if Lady Mary is enigmatic or just kind of a bitch.


No biopsy will ever be as bad as the first one—until I get the one, which I no doubt will, which will let me know that the game is up and cancer is here. The first biopsy was the worst because my children were young. I could not get over the terror that I was about to betray them by dying. I felt myself not to be an individual so much as a figurehead. I was Mother. And I felt that I could not let them be un-Mothered. They needed to trust that I would be, at very least, alive. I remember so clearly feeling as if I were behind glass, watching the rest of the world go through its busy motions. Sounds felt muffled. Even my beloved husband could not reach me. Other people were alive and I was somewhere between alive and dead, in a very special zone that normal people didn’t belong to and should never see.


It is 2:00 now. The results are supposed to be here, I’m supposed to get a call. I’ve been calm. I’ve been busy. I made phone calls and emails. But now, the sky feels heavy, as if it’s crushing down on me with extra gravity. Ring, phone. Just tell me. Just tell me what my future is going to be. I’ve waited long enough. Just tell me now.

Writing Prompt: How have you learned to cope with potentially scary news?


July is Journaling Month #20: The Tick Tock

1 Aug


The miniature represents Richard of Wallingford, Abbot of St Albans. He is pointing to a clock, referring to his gift to the abbey, and his face is disfigured by leprosyTitle of Work: Golden Book of St Albans (via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s my blog, so I guess I can call this entry July is Journaling Month, even though it takes place in August. In the future, I will continue writing posts about journaling, but in a more erratic fashion. When I’m inspired, or remember something, or somebody else has something interesting to share. But I’ll give it one more entry before I move back to blogging on my regular topics, and that is the subject of Tick Tocks.

A few weeks ago, I had lunch in downtown Brooklyn with my talented friend Sharman Stein, a journalist who has written for The New York Times and all kinds of other important publications. As we ate mighty Big Salads outside in the beautiful weather, I completely lost track of time. I felt as if I could have talked to her forever. Ironically, Sharman was the one who introduced me to the idea of a tool used in newspaperland called the Tick Tock. Basically, it’s a device that measures how quickly or slowly time moves by pointing out things by using time as a device. Such as:

10:00 a.m. Knock on child’s door. Suggest that he clean up his room because guests are coming at 5:00.

11:10: Doublecheck child’s progress. He is comatose on floor with clothes still strewn about.

12:15 Gently suggest child wakes up in 15 minutes or he will be murdered.

12:50 sound of shower.

1:50 shower is turned off.

3:00. Knock on child’s door. He is watching TV in a towel. Offer suggestion of slower, more unpleasant ways of being murdered. Child says he’s hungry. Comes down, eats healthy breakfast of pizza and tortilla chips with Mountain dew. Leaves dishes in sink.

4:00 Tell child this time you actually mean it. He will never be allowed to leave room, we will just shove pizza under his door at infrequent intervals. And no pepperoni.

4:30: Go look at child’s room. Three piles have been shoved marginally toward edge of room. Another pile is on his bed, covered with a quilt. His bed looks nine months pregnant.

(I will leave you in suspense about 5:00).

The Tick tock works excellently for 1. Situations where you’re anxiously waiting for something (see below); 2. Time when you’re really bored (may I suggest during the Staycation with the in-laws?); or 3. Times when something happens quickly but it feels as if it takes forever—like the sad fate of the Spaceship Challenger as it blew up in space.

This can also be used in fiction.

 “Questions crowded her mind. What if I end up like Branca? Their neighbor Branca went to live in Germany with relatives. They made her baby-sit their bratty children all day long and made fun of her accent. People may seem nice, but you never know. Then, Don’t worry about that, Jasmina. At least cousin Carol is my own age. Nobody will make you her unpaid baby-sitter!

What if Carol doesn’t like me?

    “Please move your chairs into an upright position. . .”

She took a deep breath. Future, here I come.

Jasmina was afraid she wouldn’t get through customs. But when she got to the front of the line, the bored immigration officer merely thumbed through her American passport and asked if she carried any fruit. Finally, she entered into a big waiting room. Now at last she was ready to face meeting her American family. But although she looked for a good five minutes, she didn’t see them.

Ten minutes. She began to worry. She stood next to a pillar and scanned the room. Self-consciously, she rubbed the caterpillar-shaped scar on the back of the hand.

 Fifteen minutes. She tried to stay calm watching people. She saw a black woman in a nice suit leading three little boys behind her.  A woman in a pink sari hugged a little girl in jeans. Two Asian teenagers kissed passionately. Two tall Germans argued over a map.

Am I in the right place? She looked up. San Francisco International Airport.

As she waited, she thought, A million people and I don’t know any of them.   

Twenty minutes. She thought of her mother’s saying, “Where did your sense of adventure go?” Why is that so important, Mama? Because this is adventure. Being stuck in a strange country by yourself. She took the photos of her cousins out of her purse and studied them.

Thirty minutes. Payphones lined the wall. She had the phone number but no money.

Forty-eight minutes. Maybe I’m just their charity case. Maybe they’re sorry they said I could stay.

“Jasmina? Jasmina?” A girl with chin-length brown hair pushed through the crowd.

It was the long-lashed gray eyes and cleft chin she’d seen in pictures. “Carol?”

 “I’m so sorry we’re late. There was traffic, we couldn’t find the terminal—”

Jasmina forced herself to be polite. She gave Carol a Bosnian-style kiss, on the left cheek, right cheek, and left again.

Carol shook herself like a wet dog. She patted Jasmina awkwardly. “Um, hello to you, too. Hey, Mom.”

Prompt: Take a time when you’re either procrastinating, waiting, or remember something moment by moment–in other words, when time takes on a different proportion of your life than it normally does. Then do a tick tock of it like a real journalist.