In about five minutes, Mr. Hospital Scrubs is going to pump something that looks like blue Kool-Aid into my veins and slowly push me into a whirling, deafening CT machine. I’ll hold my breath on and off so they can get a better picture.
“This is your scan day?” asks a kindly nurse. She is buzzing around the room, handing me a mask, setting up for the blood draw. I nod.
“Ah, family portraits,” she says with a sorry smile.
Yes, I am not alone in this body. I’ve got company. The machines will have a better look at the two plump tumors in my liver, the smaller, almost invisible other two, baby tumors nearby, and the microscopic cancer cells swimming around in my abdomen.
But everyone is trying their best. The reception volunteers their best port nurse to help me today for my big day. The technician jokes with me about Canada’s predictably paltry performance in the Olympics. Summer sports just aren’t really our thing. The nurse gives me a hug and asks if I want to pray over the vial of blood that will tell the oncologists whether I am deteriorating. I do.
Dear God, save me. save me. save me. save me. Again.
It’s been 11 months since my diagnosis, and it sounds weird to say that I am grateful. But I am grateful. I have lived one month past the regular appointment time that someone like me with an unexpected Stage IV cancer diagnosis should live.
I am doing things I never thought I would do again. Like hike a mountain.
Yesterday I was in the mountains of North Carolina with Katherine, one of Great Besties of all Time, and we were just stupid enough and just enthusiastic enough to sign up for a hike up the Blue Mountain trail. It promised to be short and hard with a spectacular view. It was hard, so I guess one of three ain’t bad.
We laced up our shoes and headed up the trail, only to realize that I had forgotten my water and sunglasses in the car. This was a great disappointment to Katherine, whose two great loves are hydration and retinal safety. But on we went until the trail got steep and narrow, little switchbacks that went back and forth, back and forth, and up, up, up.
We maintained the panting, cheery banter of two girls trying to pretend that we were almost there. We weren’t. What seemed, on the map, to be a mile-long hike to the summit was more like a slog through the jungle, hacking away tree limbs as we went.
Katherine noticed it first. The sun breaking through the trees above us. The shining promise of a panoramic view of the Great Smoky Mountains and our great reward: moral superiority over the millions of people who we imagined were sleeping or eating stacks of pancakes at that very moment. Those sitting in pews that Sunday morning never crossed our minds.
When we hit the clearing and felt the first heat of direct sun, we looked around. A lot. Mostly we were looking at the ground and its big pile of rocks which suggested that it was a campfire site. But no view. There were only trees and trees and more trees and a tiny sign that read: Blue Mountain Summit. I guess if there’s a sign, it counts more?
So, of course, we took a lot of pictures of our sweaty faces with the trees to prove to our dubious spouses that yes, sometimes we do things on our girls weekends, thankyouverymuch.
But sometimes there isn’t a view. Sometimes we climb the mountain expecting God to give us a sense of perspective. Sometimes we expect to feel the grandeur of God’s love. Or maybe the distance we have come. And when we get there, there is only a pile of rocks and a sign pointing the way back down. It leaves us wondering if the exhaustion of the climb was actually worth it.
I am sitting beside the CT machine when I notice it. It’s a glass panel set into the ceiling with a large picture that glows. It depicts a mountain view, the tops of trees and the sky like an endless sea. The sun is breaking through.
I climb into the whirling machine, lie back, and stare at the top of the world. Sometimes in life I get the view, and sometimes I don’t. Even when I climb the mountain. And sometimes I am way, way down through a maze of white hallways littered with wheelchairs and the hum of televisions in a sterile room in a hospital gown as blue as the sky.