Schrödinger’s Cancer

For the past month, I’ve been dealing with what I dubbed “Schrödinger’s Cancer.” It’s the cancer you both have and do not have in the interim time between finding something suspicious and test results.

It’s that window of time that opens with you waiting to see if that unnatural thing goes away, convinced you’re healthy. It’s nothing. It has to go away.

Then when you google your symptoms, you discover that the thing you thought you might have may not even be the worst possibility. You are suddenly certain it is the worst possibility.

And when it doesn’t go away, you make an emergency appointment with the doctor to be told ambiguously that you might want to wait and see. Or have some tests done. Completely aware you’ve already waited too long and the end is nigh, you demand immediate tests and then start writing your will.

Then you have to struggle through the time when you can’t seem to get the lady at the doctor’s office to send a referral for several days. When she cavalierly says, “Oh I don’t have time to fax that today, I’ll do it sometime tomorrow,” and you want to scream, “I could be dead by then!”

The appointment is set. And you twiddle your thumbs until you finally get the screening. Then they come with the long faces and send you to the room where they don’t send people who are just fine. These strangers with credentials on a lanyard look very serious when they say, “I’m not going to lie to you…” And when they set up your date for surgery at the same time as the biopsy with the words “because of how they’ve categorized this…” you only hear the words “just in case.”

Then time passes. Too much time.

Pieces of your body are forcibly and violently extracted. You make jokes with the attending doctor because what else are you going to do? “This is almost like a day at the spa. Except, you know, not so much.” Or as you watch the ultrasound they use to guide the needle to that thing, whatever that thing is: “Doctor, give it to me straight. Is it a girl or a boy?”

You notice that they replaced one of the overhead ceiling tiles with a picture of the blue sky. This does not in any way comfort you. But the kindness of the hospital staff does. And you remain hopeful.

And time passes. Why is there so much time involved when evil could be right now on the march toward vital command centers? You consider whether you could operate by yourself with a melonballer.

Instead you learn about everything you’ve ever done wrong in your life. This is the truth of Schrödinger’s cancer – you regret many things. You find out that vitamin D cuts your risk of cancer in half and you shake a fist at your doctor for failing to tell you that early enough, but then remember he did.

You ask if those awful things you’ve occasionally thought manifested themselves as physical karmic retribution. You wish you hadn’t wished death on anyone. You won’t ever do that again.

You swear you won’t drink anymore alcohol, or eat sugar, or eat anything at all. You’ll just drink green tea. As a result, you lose those five pounds in one week that you’ve been fighting for the past year. And you realize that rapid weight loss is a symptom of cancer. You combat this by eating an entire combo meal at Wendy’s. You weigh more the next day and feel weirdly happy about that.

Then as time passes, you say “screw that.” Like a New Year’s resolution on January 3rd, your good intentions go up in smoke. It’s not like a beer’s going to kill me NOW. I’ve already got cancer. And if I don’t, then it didn’t do any harm in the first place.

You start to write the blog post in your head that you’ll write when you find out you’re healthy. Because you have good defense mechanisms and after a week of no results, you’re banking on hearing that it’s nothing. Despite all the information you’ve read online. Despite how dire it is to have something *right there*. It’s just easier to deal in hope than despair. And you don’t even consider how you’ll tell people you’re sick. And then you get a sudden case of superstitious worry that if you plan for the best, you’ll only hear the worst.

When you call for the results, you learn the doctor is at a conference. She’ll call you tomorrow.

By now, you’re back in the middle of your life, participating in a crazy contest, revising a story you’d better finish before you shuffle off this mortal coil. You’re watching Colbert with your kid and laughing your ass off. You’ve come to figure you’ll do whatever you have to do when you find out the results, so why worry?

And finally, you get the results. Schrödinger’s cancer is no longer one thing or the other. It is one thing. You breathe a sigh of relief. Or stiffen your spine for the next step.

And then you buy a beer.

And since you’re wondering, I’m breathing a sigh of relief.