Looking back over the events in my life, I cannot say that I have ever been as scared as I was in that moment. My life had revolved around Sunday dinners at my grandmother’s house and now, as we waited for the doctor to deliver the test results, I realized that so much more of my life would change without her there. This was more than about Sunday dinners and standing plans, in this moment, my whole world could have changed. The waiting room had been very pleasant with large Thomas Kincaid photographs and freshly cut flowers filling vases on the solid oak end tables. Magazines were stacked neatly on a coffee table which were intended to serve as a distraction but clearly had not been moved. The chairs were unexpectedly comfortable as if the decorator somehow knew that the patients would have to spend a great deal of time waiting for their name to be called. The television was set to some daytime soap opera which made the drama of real life seem a little less chaotic. Across from me was a man, around forty, who seemed to notice the look of fear on my face. “This place would be better with a refreshment stand,” he joked to break the silence. “I guess this place would be better if we didn’t have to come at all,” I replied, and he nodded in agreement. At that time, my grandmother placed her hand on mine and gave me the same look she had given me when I had cried to her about my first heartbreak. It was the look that said that everything would be okay even if it did not turn out the way that we had wanted. She always knew exactly what to say and rarely had to use words to say it. The solid door to the left of the receptionist desk opened and I heard a soft voice, uncharacteristic for the build of the nurse, say my grandmother’s name. My mother gathered her purse and nervously rustled the paperwork that she had filled out for my grandmother. My grandmother stood, straightened her blouse, and walked towards the door with a level of confidence that one would expect from an actor accepting their Golden Globe. I knew that it was a show, but I was very thankful for her efforts.
The exam room was not nearly as welcoming as the waiting room had been. On the wall hung posters that showed the progression of breast cancer and a calendar that was marked for self-exams. A stack of pamphlets filled the counter with titles such as “How to talk to your loved ones,” and “Giving up is not an option.” Everything seemed so very real at this moment. Every fear was spelled out in black and white. “Grandma,” I could tell that the seriousness of the room had changed her demeanor from a being a confident grandmother to a frightened patient. “This room sure could use some better pictures, don’t you think?” She could tell that I was trying to lighten the mood and she attempted to appease me by suggesting that I bring in some of my drawings from when I was younger. However, both of our attempts had failed. My mother, who had sat quietly until this point, offered us each a piece of Spearmint gum and said, “I am sure it won’t be much longer.” She was right. Just after I had discarded the wrappers, the door opened, and the doctor entered. He spoke to my grandmother and then nodded to my mother and me. He laid out a file and stood there in silence for what seemed like hours but could only have been a few moments at most. “Well, I guess you all would like for me to get straight to the point. I know that the waiting is the hardest part. Fortunately, looking over your results, that will be the only hard part that you will have to endure.” It took a few moments for any of us to register what he was saying. The three of us sat staring at each other waiting for the doctor to continue. He must have recognized our confusion because he smiled and took my grandmother’s hand. “The biopsy was negative. There is no cancer and you, ma’am, are clear.” A burst of tears flooded the room as the weeks prior seemed to fade into a nightmare from which we had all just woken up, simultaneously. The room seemed brighter and happier as the posters were no longer relevant and the pamphlets would not be necessary. There was no cancer and the worst-case scenario had been avoided. Sunday dinners would continue, and my life would not change. Strangely, my life did change but the changes were for the better. Sunday dinners became daily phone calls and random lunches in the middle of the week. Other family members became noticeably more important in my life and every moment spent with them was considered a blessing.
Little events became major memories and every spoken word, glance, or gesture found its way etched into my mind. You see, facing life and death is not only relevant when the life is your own. Every person that impacts your life is essential to your very awareness of yourself and the value that you place on living. Too many times I have complained about sitting around that dinner table listening to the same stories. The fear of never hearing them again, however, somehow made each time after a new experience. Somehow, from the moment in that exam room when the doctor spoke, everything has seemed new, exciting, and full of promise.
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