The Day When Time Stood Still

It was barely bigger than a cupboard.  There were no windows, just four thin walls in need of a fresh coat of paint. A wooden desk scattered with papers and a flickering computer, a desk chair, and two tired, threadbare cushioned chairs.  Soulless and stale.  Like the life had been sucked out of it. Was there anywhere more appropriate to hear the fateful words: “it’s cancer.”

Thankfully I wasn’t alone, a friend had agreed to come with me to get the results from my biopsy.   The hospital had taken so long to get back to me that I’d just about convinced myself it wasn’t cancer.  Surely, if it was bad news they’d have called by now?  I’m young, I’m fit, I don’t feel like I have cancer.  As I sat in the waiting room, staring at the notice board with out-of-date notices on it, I kept repeating that to myself, they’d have called by now if it was…

A nurse followed us into the cupboard, crowding the tiny space and having to find somewhere to perch for lack of chairs.  She radiated warmth, it just emanated from her and highlighted the stark contrast of the soulless room.  I maneuvered my way into the room.  Nowhere to put my hat, coat, and scarf so I stuffed them down by the side of my chair, along with my handbag.  My friend quietly slipped into the chair next to me.  

The oncologist turned away from the computer screen to look at me, took a deep breath and everything went blank.  I heard people talking.  I have no idea what was said to me apart from the words, “it’s cancer”.  There was deafening silence between my ears but noise all around. People talking, trying to make it ok as if they could lessen the diagnosis through talking.  I just sat, mind whirling, thinking it was a mistake, a cruel joke.  I was young, I was fit, I didn’t feel like I had cancer.  Surely it wasn’t cancer.

I don’t think the oncologist knew what to do with someone who didn’t react.  It wasn’t a time for silence, that was too awkward, too uncomfortable.  With the diagnosis delivered, the oncologist turned back to the computer screen and we were ushered into another room by the nurse.  This room had a window.  I remember the narrow beam of sunlight falling to a point on the floor, just past the coffee table.  We sat, side by side on the two-seater wicker sofa with cushions so thin you could feel the frame digging into your bones.  Suzy, the nurse, sat opposite.  She kept asking if I was ok.  Hell no I’m not ok I thought in my head.  Let me out of here, I just want a drink, to escape.  I need to block all this out and maybe when I wake up it will all be just a horrible dream.  But I’m British so I said I was fine.  

I was talked at some more.  Explaining the biopsy results, what my type of cancer was, the next steps, the process.  All really useful information and delivered in a very sympathetic, understanding way, if only I was in a state to process it all.  As I sat on that wicker sofa, listening, the tears finally trickled out.  Tears became a few sobs and then dried up again as I pushed reality back to the deepest corners of my brain.  The tissue in my hands became my focus, folding it and unfolding it until it disintegrated and I had to reach for another tissue.  Anything to keep my mind distracted.  If I didn’t hear it, maybe it wouldn’t be true.  I was willing to try anything to make it not true.  

The talking finally stopped.  I reached for my bag, wanting to make a dash for it, get as much distance between myself and those soulless rooms that stank of bad news and false hope.  The quick escape dragged out as the simplest task of donning my hat, coat and scarf suddenly became complicated.  Finally kitted up, with arms in sleeves and hat round the right way, I was ready to face the blast of cold as the hospital doors opened and I was swallowed back into a world of anonymity.  I could pretend I didn’t have cancer for a little bit longer.


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