Waiting, The Cancer Patient

by Bev Shirts

(The following are two post made to the listmail of GSI on June 3 and June 4, 2003)


Today I turned back into a cancer patient.

“Use this arm,” I said, smiling at the lab tech, “I need the other one for tomorrow.” He looked at me a bit strangely, then did a B- job on the blood draw. Now I have my little gauze bandage on.

Then it was off to the Radiology department to pick up my prep. They all said, “Hi Bev!” and then asked which test, and I rattled off, “CT, chest, ab, pelvis, with contrast…” as I always do…

A waiting patient looked up at me when I said, “don’t forget to send a copy to both oncologists.” He was about 35 and looked at me, the look of shock and curiosity that people sometimes get when they realize they are somewhere in the vicinity of a cancer patient. I ignored him…except, I went on chatting a bit too breezily to the receptionists. “Janice IS working tomorrow, right?” (my all time favorite radiologist) “Yup, she’s back!” <<exchanged grins>>>

It’s a nice little hospital, just built. Great staff. Ceramic and crystal dragonflies hover on the walls and ceilings above the radiology department waiting area. Dragonfly is my North Totem, according to my Native American friends. One thing a North totem represents is how to be “grateful for each blessing everyday.” Having dragonfly there makes this an illusive and yet magical task, delicate but strong.

The first time I went for a CT in the new hospital I was a bit scared. It was a re-scan of a questionable scan. I was nervous as I WAITED, and then looked up and saw dragonflies surrounding me! God speaks in mysterious ways. I suddenly felt so not alone anymore. Everytime I go for a scan, I look up to see the dragonflies. I love that they are there–reminding me that gratitude is strong, illusive, and that whatever happens, I am watched over and OK.

Carrying the prep, I walked briskly OUT of the hospital. I thought about waiting until tomorrow. Then waiting again for the results. I thought about all the waiting cancer patients do all the time. If I had to describe having cancer using only one word, I would probably say “waiting.”

I thought about Maura and James WAITING for surgery. I think I know how they feel. It feels horrid. “JUST TAKE IT OUT AND DO IT NOW!” is how I imagine them feeling. It’s how I felt, though on the outside I was calm and strong and in control–the inside wanted to plead and cry, “Please, can’t you do it NOW?” Still striding out of the hospital…a tear threatened to fall for Maura and James–so I hurried faster to my car.

Pushing through the door into the heat of summer, I thought about Pat and the others WAITING to get evaluated or admitted to the Sugen trial. I can only imagine what they are feeling, as they WAIT and try to cope with day-to-day life as Cancer fills their every thought. My throat got all tight and I made it to the car.

I sat there in the “privacy” of my car and thought of Marina. The WAITING (both necessary and UNnecessary) that must be driving her round the bend about now. “Just ACT. Just do something! Don’t you understand that I KNOW what hospice means, and I don’t want to hear your empty, uniformed and useless reassurances?”

Then, I drove home thinking about each of you, too many names to mention. All, in one way or another in some form of “waiting.” I knew I could come hear and say the things out loud that are persistantly hammering in my brain, as I WAIT.

My 89 days are up. I manage to not feel guilty that I haven’t had a recurrance yet, while so many that I care for have. I know that one person’s troubles can not be compared to another’s–not if you want to stay sane anyway. There will always be someone in worse shape, and someone in better shape than you are, whether it’s about cancer or the weather…

I am a cancer patient. Sometimes that is more real than other times. Today is one of those times.

I am so privileged to know you. It is one of my cancer “gifts” that I have been allowed to share feelings and experiences with you through these years. I just wanted to tell you all that. Looks like those tears want to come, so I am gonna let ’em. They are tears of gratitude as much as they are of sorrow. Good tears.

Much love to you,


33 month scan tomorrow at 7am. 12 cm GIST removed from stomach and L adrenal gland 8-31-00. No mets. No recurrance. Many friends.


Second Letter

(The next post is from the following day, when results were in.)

Hello again everyone,

My day today was a bit strange. While WAITING to check in there was an automobile accident–so, for the first time at this hospital, my scan wasn’t done and over in fifteen minutes. Instead I waited a hour and a half–which was ok.

I asked them to pull my scans, and spent about 30 minutes looking them over. Facinating. Then, I went down to pick up my blood test results while waiting. I waited for the office to open at 8AM. Got the results, and noticed right away that several of my numbers were WAY out of “normal” range–but then was called in for my scan. Uneventful scan, a A- job on the IV!

Since I have previously unsucessfully tried to research what the abbreviations on the blood test mean, I went back to the lab and had her tell me the ones I didn’t recognise that were out of “normal” range.

On the CBS the RBC was low, but the RDW, PLT, and Lymph were high. I meant to write down the meanings but when she went to the next page, the CMP, she immediately pointed to my extremely high AST and ALT numbers and said, “those are liver funtions tests”.

My heart took a pause, and I didn’t write down the ones from the CBC. I went out to my car. Sat there. I decided I better give Janice (my radiologist) a copy of the blood work, so I went back into the hospital. As the receptionist made copies for me, Janice walked in (a hour early). I told her why I was giving her the copies and she immediately said, “That doesn’t necessarily mean anything Bev. Are you on any meds?”

Antibiotics! Yaaaa! (An animal bite) “Could that do it?”


She looked at me and said, “when is your scan?” I said, “just did it.” She said, “come on,” and to the nearest nurse she said, “get me Bev Shirtts’ scan please.”

I trailed after Janice as we went for the scan–saw more of the “guts” of the labs at the hospitals, and recognised many of the behind-the-scenes people. Janice and I chatted about shopping. ANYTHING to pass the WAITING time…Found the scans, (Blanke’s copy was already being mailed.) and grabbed the nearest light board.

She put them up and we both looked at the liver. Looked fine.

“looks fine” she said, “you can read these things yourself I think.

We only looked at the liver, as she had several other scans to read and I assured her that was MORE than enough–I would wait for the rest. I think I love this woman.

Just picked up the report. No Evidence of Metastatic Disease.

I will call that NED–or his favorite cousin. I will dance with them both. Right now I am just breathing with them, but if a good song comes on….

I have some pulmonary scarring still–not completely identifiable, so I didn’t get the complete all-clear, but close enough!

33 months post surgery, no mets, no recurrance, many blessings and MANY lovely friends who I thank for all the words of support today and all of the other days.