The atmosphere was tense in the CT scan waiting room. Nothing seemed particularly different at first blush – several men and women waiting their turn to have a machine tell them something about their tumors. Like me, many were being accompanied by a family member or friend. By this time, I had been in the breast cancer waiting room several times. The atmosphere in the BC waiting room I now see as qualitatively different. A friend referred to it as, “You and your sisters waiting together.” None of that filial bonding in the CT scan waiting room. We were a mixed gender and we were there representing a variety of different malignancies. No one likes the word “cancer” but I imagined you flinched a bit when you read “malignancies.” But that is how it felt. I think that it had more to do with fear than anything else. I wasn’t seated long before I heard the frustration and anger of one man directed at the two receptionists. He and his wife had been waiting a long time and he was upset, “this place is incompetent and needs more accountability” was one of his many comments. His disgust and self-righteousness was difficult to hear. But later his gait to the CAT scan room told the story of great pain and a life threatening condition. Another woman was angrily defending her cell phone’s dependability with one of the CT scan techs. “I have my phone with me all the time so there was no way you tried to call me to change the appointment.” She pleaded, “I need this to happen today so that my oncologist can start my meds again for my liver and pancreas.” I wanted to cry for her.
Things calmed down for me a bit until the two mega TV screens came on with a feature story on the plight of Syrian refugee children. The shocking statistics of children who had already died in the Syrian war and the continuing health crisis of children in the refugee camps including an outbreak of polio only served to increase the malignant atmosphere of the waiting room. By the time I was ushered into the CT scan room I was praying, “Come Lord Jesus, Come. There is too much pain and fear of dying in this world so just come and set everything right.”
Laying on the CT machine’s gurney, I thought I was doing well emotionally considering my experience in the waiting room. But I was suddenly betrayed by my limbic system. Out of nowhere, my heart was racing and my breathing was rapid and shallow. Where did this come from? Within a nana-second I knew why. My body was picking up the physical sensations of fear before a rational thought was registered. The classic case of the amygdala beating the frontal cortex to the punch. “Oh no, the test is over so why is the tech taking so long to come back to me? They must be seeing something that is of concern. The horse is out of the barn! Metastasis!”
The fear of dying had just made itself known. So, I did what a few friends had suggested in fearful situations. I started quietly quoting relevant bible verses audibly. Verses that I had memorized in my twenties, the time in life to memorize as the young brain seals the deal. It helped. I can’t say with confidence that the fear of dying will never find its way back to me again or that the way out of it will be to always quote scripture but there is a scripture verse I am taking to the bank of heaven. It’s a verse that doesn’t depend on me to muster up a no-fear-of-dying feeling in order for it to be operative. In Romans 8 verses 37-39 of the New Testament the Apostle Paul writes,
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
By the way, I found out two days ago and now, four days before my surgery that the CT, bone and MRI scans were clear. The horse is still in the barn.