As I waited to pull onto U.S. 11 just a few miles from my house Wednesday evening, there didn’t seem to be anything unusual about it. The highway is busy that time of day, with two lanes of traffic in each direction and a turn lane in the middle. I’ve crossed those lanes hundreds of times, and I had no way of knowing this time was going to be different.
Traffic was heavy, but I was going to have time to cross to the other side if I timed it well. Just as I pulled out, though, an oncoming car did something I didn’t expect. I accelerated to get out of the way, barreling into the turn lane, where a car coming from another direction had just unexpectedly moved. I changed directions once again and ended up in yet another lane, startling another driver.
I’d almost hit at least three cars. I pulled off the road to think about this.
When a doctor first diagnosed me with breast cancer two weeks ago and said I had to have surgery, I expected to go through changing emotions in the days leading up to the experience. But knowing that and experiencing it are two entirely different things. Four days before I’m scheduled to be cut on next Monday, I can say I’ve had a number of emotions creep up on me unexpectedly.
Until now, the worst medical procedure I’ve ever had done was a root canal two years ago. (I was scared going into that, but it turned out to be no big deal.) I’ve never had to be knocked out and cut on, so I’m a bit of a medical wimp. But I’ve found from talking to other people who’ve experienced similar things that what I’m feeling isn’t uncommon at all.
There are times when your feelings are obvious and make themselves known to everyone. It hasn’t been like that. I’ve fluctuated between feelings so normal that they’ve felt more like denial and feelings of a very low level of something almost like panic.
I’ve realized that I’ve been getting irritated easily. I’m annoyed by people who don’t mean to be annoying. I’ve even found myself annoyed by my sweet dog who just wants attention. What I’m realizing is that I’m experiencing low levels of fear and anger that don’t feel good, so I’m distracted and irritable.
The fear is easy to understand, I guess. It’s fear of the unknown. The truth of the matter is that every day is an unknown for all of us, but we eventually become blind to that. We ignore the fact that we could die any day. But when something is scheduled — on your calendar for just a few days away — you’re forced to confront that unknown. It makes me feel powerless and afraid.
That feeling of powerlessness seems to be what leads to anger. I’m not certain, but it’s all I can figure out. I don’t have anybody to be angry with. Nobody caused this problem. I’m not angry at God for letting tumors grow in our bodies — whether this one turns out to be cancerous or pre-cancerous. I guess I’m just angry that I don’t have the assurance that my life will play out as I expect it to. That sounds crazy since none of us is assured of anything past this moment. As I said, though, this situation seems to make that uncertainty more real.
The fear and the anger combine to make me feel more alone. I’ve lived alone for the past 11 years. I’ve always known I wanted to marry again and have a family. I have serious regrets about not having done that a few years back, but there’s always been the hope that maybe — just maybe — the time would come again. But I’m alone now. Something about this entire process emphasizes that and makes it feel even worse.
It’s possible that I could have made last night’s driving mistake even if I hadn’t been distracted by this issue. Maybe. All I know is that after I pulled off the road to think about what I’d almost done, I felt distracted.
I felt scared. I felt angry. And I felt alone.
That quick little incident seems to have been a microcosm of all the feelings I’ve been trying to shove aside lately. I don’t like the feelings any better. I don’t like the situation any better. But I have to face the reality and get past next Monday and see what the days after that bring.
I don’t know what the reality after that will be. It might be something that makes me afraid again, but at least I’ll have a better idea of what’s going on, so I can deal with a known situation. It might be something that makes me feel angry at the loss of some control, but I can fight that and find ways to regain control and to accept what I can’t control.
The worst is the feeling of being alone. I don’t feel as though cancer or anything else is killing me, but I do feel — right now — that this terrible feeling of being alone is killing me. And I think that’s what I’m feeling so strongly today. All of this that I’m going through is making me know that the fear and anger and annoyance are really about going through this — and living my life — alone.
I don’t want to live like this anymore, so something has to change. I’ll have to give that some serious thought after next Monday.