The weather seemed to quickly be changing from a warm September to a breezy, cool October. I looked away from the houses blurring by as we drove to the doctor scheduled for today, and instead looked down at my swollen fingers; they made for a rather unsettling look for a sophomore in high school. They had their usual tremor, like an elderly woman trying to pour water into a glass. I glanced at my mom, who had been with me every step of the way. Lately, I had noticed her eyes had droopy bags and dark circles that she always rushed to cover up before we walked into the doctor’s office. Her curly, dark hair was never quite pieced together perfectly, like it normally was. Her brows were always furrowed when she looked at me and her body seemed tense with worry. But then again, I’d noticed that with everyone who looked at me lately.
My mom quickly parked the car as we were cutting it close to being late. I began to grasp for the door handle to begin the so familiar journey into the doctor’s office. I paused though, noticing my mom’s hesitation. Instead of hurrying me along, she hadn’t moved her hands from the steering wheel, or even the keys from the ignition. I looked at her with my head tilted, questioning, without having to speak, why we weren’t rushing to check in. I noticed the glossiness of her eyes. She had never been good at hiding her emotions. She simply told me to come along and we began our walk to the check-in counter. This was routine to me, they’d ask for my name, date of birth, and who I was seeing today. I never knew the third answer, as it was always a new specialist. Today was different though, we were back for a follow up and I quickly said, “Cassidy Filipiak, eight eight two thousand, Dr. Apu.” This seemed like good news to me, maybe someone finally had an answer for me after months of searching, but my mother’s tired eyes seemed to think differently. Almost as soon as we had settled into the chairs in the waiting room, my head rested on my mom’s shoulder, exhausted from the walk inside a nurse stepped through the doors and shouted, “Cassidy.” I groaned as I stood, both from the pain in my legs and from knowing he would want to run even more blood work. I would have to feel the familiar elastic band digging into my arm as my mom squeezed my hand, trying to assure me it wouldn’t hurt for the hundredth time this year. She was always wrong.
I followed my mom back into the examination room. I hopped up on the table and heard the familiar crunch of the paper. The nurse asked me the same questions every nurse did. After my blood pressure, temperature, and oxidation levels came back normal, just like every time, the nurse left my mother and me alone in the room to wait. Usually, she would try to make small talk to distract me from the fact that I was in yet another doctor’s office, but not today. Instead, she sat, shaking her leg in the chair, not looking at anything but me. Just as I began to ask her what was wrong, Dr. Apu knocked on the door three times to signal he was ready to begin the appointment. He pushed open the heavy wooden door and sat down on his swivel chair, swaying slightly as he began to give me the speech I was used to hearing. The Indian man sitting in front of me did not have an ounce of bedside manner as he quickly began to tell me that they have exploited every option available in his specialty and any other test would honestly be a moot point. Any hope I had of good news began to drain out of me and I felt my face begin to get clammy. Dr. Apu continued though, with news my family had already known. He began to tell me the next step, “I would recommend heading to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital to begin the search for the tumor.”
My head began to spin. I looked to my mother for help, but she could no longer hold back the tears. I realized why she had seemed tired and out of sorts recently. This was the second time she had been told I had a cancer somewhere in my body. I glanced away, afraid I too would start to cry. I realized I had stopped listening to Dr. Apu and tried to tune back in, but all I could hear him say were the words tumor, cancer, and leukemia. The world suddenly looked like it did when I rolled out of bed without contacts.
Everything was blurry.
I couldn’t see. I couldn’t hear anything other than the words coming from my doctor’s mouth. I began to feel hot as I so often did, and my hands began to shake more than usual. ,Dr. Apu at some point had concluded his speech and left the room, but I hadn’t noticed. I turned to my mom. She was still crying and it wasn’t until then that I realized I too had begun to cry; my swollen cheeks were wet with tears. The only words I could manage were, “He said cancer so much.” My mother engulfed me in a hug and told me that she had known for a couple weeks, but hadn’t wanted to scare me, and that she didn’t want me to find out like this.
Time began to feel like it was somehow trudging along and speeding by all at the same time. My oncologist appointment wasn’t for several weeks, and I had decided that I wasn’t going to tell my friends because I didn’t want them to treat me differently. I didn’t want to be known as the sixteen year old who went from being a dual sport athlete to someone with an unknown leukemia, unable to cross the room without becoming fatigued. I began to try to soak everything up, not knowing if it was my last time doing what my friends thought were normal, everyday activities. My life as I knew it seemed to come to a halt while everyone’s around me continued to go a million miles an hour.
Now, I look down at my fingers, no longer swollen. They still have their tremor sometimes, but this has become normal. I still catch my mother looking at me with worried eyes, but the rest of the world has stopped looking at me like I may collapse at any moment. Months after my oncology appointment I learned that the positive test had no correlation to a leukemia, instead it had detected a difficult, yet manageable disease that I will have for the rest of my life. That moment in Dr. Apu’s office is a constant reminder that my life could change at any moment. A constant reminder to hold the ones I love close. And a constant reminder that I survived, and I’m capable of facing anything.