We need funny stories, warm blankets and magazines, just to keep our minds from focusing on the waiting room, the gateway to chemo land. It must be different for other kinds of patients -- nurses and doctors don't necessarily remind them of death.
The first time, my mother and I walked toward the room in silence, holding hands. I'd collapsed without warning in a Miami shopping mall. Eight days beforehand, I'd had emergency, 12-hour brain surgery to remove the softball-sized tumor waiting to kill.
The hallways were cold and quiet. The green chemotherapy sign grew closer, and our hands grasped tighter. More people arrived: an older couple, a young girl in her 20s, a young boy with his mother. Others fell asleep or watched the TV at full blast.
Only a few people in front of us -- maybe it will be quick. They called my name. Not bad -- only about 45 minutes.
A hippie, peaceful-looking doctor with gray hair and blue eyes walked into the examining room. He laid out the chemo plans, like a syllabus for the semester.
"Not bad," I said.
My oncologist laughed and gave me a funny look. He saw my lack of fear. And he introduced me to another patient, who was in remission.
I'm nowhere near remission. Most of my senses -- sight, sound, taste, touch -- are gone, buried beneath many painkillers and my mostly covered head.
But every other week, I'm back in this waiting room, on alert, as if on call, as doctors are every day.
I see familiar faces and new ones, the new ones looking just like mine did on my first day. I also see people throwing up, as well as bald, tired people with a lack of life in their eyes.
I meet a guy with a similar brain-tumor situation. We compare our surgery scars. We compare other things that occur to us. Attitude still has to keep on rising around life.
We're all competing.
Will I get my chemo fast, or will I have to wait for hours in a full waiting room? Do I have a good nurse, or is she a bumbler? Is the I.V. nurse going to be efficient, or will she have no clue of how to find my vein and wind up marking me with a colorful bruise?
I can see cancer as just a burden to carry, or to briefly battle. I think about all of this while I'm waiting. So I always hope the wait will be short.
Again, I find strength in myself.
Each time chemo is finished and the waiting room waits as well, I feel as if I've received an angel's guidance.