The Waiting Room When I was seventeen and in my senior year at high school, my mom had surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor. After the tumor was discovered, I prayed and cried myself to sleep every night. That spring I learned a little about death and about how I wanted to live my life.
The doctors had decided that my mom needed to undergo intense radiation therapy which consisted of twenty minutes of radiation directed at the cancerous area, five days a week for six weeks. My mom could not drive during that period of time.
Back then my parents had just enough money to get by on. Although they had health insurance, they were still responsible for a large deductible. My mom was on disability and only received sixty percent of her normal salary. My dad worked long hours to try to support the family. It was not possible for my dad to take time off work to get my mom to and from her appointments.
With the help of friends and family who rallied for our cause, the school district allowed me to home study for part of the last semester of school. This enabled me to take my mom to her scheduled appointments.
The drive to the first appointment seemed to take forever. There was a distance between my mom and me. Although we both faked smiles and laughter as we cracked jokes about memory loss and hair loss, we knew the jokes were only to cover the seriousness of the disease.
As we entered the radiation department waiting room I shivered. The room was cold and square with chairs lining each wall in muted tones of blue and mauve. Everyone in the room turned to look and smile. As soon as we sat down, my mom was asked why she was there. It was almost as if we were the new recruits in a cancer support group.
My mom told her story about how she had been diagnosed with breast cancer four years earlier and been treated with chemotherapy. She then proceeded to tell them about her brain tumor and how after having it removed they discovered that it was malignant. She looked at me proudly as she told them what a wonderful daughter I had been to give up the last two months of my senior year to drive her to doctors' appointments.
Next to us sat a large black woman whose sisters, mother and grandmother had all died from breast cancer. She had not escaped heredity. She just hoped the radiation therapy would give her little more time here on earth before she was blessed with joining her beloved family in heaven. Another old woman with a pink turban on her head sat crumpled over in her wheel chair wearing a bathrobe and slippers. She managed a raspy deep hello. Her caretaker informed us that the old woman had throat cancer and that they were trying radiation therapy but were really just trying to make her comfortable until she died.
"Darlene Stackhouse," a voice chimed from a door near the reception window. My mom got up, leaving me alone in the waiting room. I squirmed in my seat. I didn't know what to say to these women who were sick and/or dying.
The door to the waiting room opened, and a very frail woman in her early thirties entered, followed by another woman carrying a small, beautiful blonde boy. I watched as the two women found seats together and sat the little boy on the floor in front of them. The little boy laughed and played, occasionally showing the woman who had carried him something. The woman who had carried him would then tug on the arm of the frail woman sitting next to her as if to awaken her to how magnificent the child was. The frail woman would get a large smile on her face and nod her head.
The room began to buzz with questions for the two women. The frail woman's name was Linda. Linda had cancer throughout her body. Her cancer had spread quickly, and the doctor's were only able to slow the progression of the disease, not stop it. Linda mustered a bright smile and proceeded, "I am thankful for every day I have had with my son Ben," pointing at the small blonde boy. "Ben has kept me alive the last two years." Ben was two and a half.
Linda smiled dearly as she introduced Susan, the one who had carried Ben in, and explained how Susan had been her closest friend for twenty years. Susan lived just down the street from her and had been by her side every moment since she was diagnosed with cancer. Apparently Linda's husband was little help and wanted nothing to do with her or their son, so Susan had become her and Ben's caretaker. Linda explained how arrangements had been made for Susan to adopt Ben after she died. Ben loved Susan, and it gave Linda such comfort to know that her son would be loved and well cared for. My mom returned from the door by the reception desk. I told each person goodbye and left the waiting room with a little warmth inside, feeling that life was precious.
After two weeks had passed, I started looking forward to the daily clinic visits. I had begun to feel as though everyone there was an old friend. I especially loved to go and play with Ben.
We drove through rain that spring day, but I didn't let that get me down. My mom and Me chatted about old times on our way to her appointment. She interrupted me every so often to remind me to slow down in the rain. We quickly arrived at the clinic.
I greeted everyone upon entering the waiting room and found a nice cozy seat. I was anxious to catch up on everyone's life. My mom was called in as usual, and I sat talking with everyone while I waited for little Ben to arrive. I was surprised when my mom was finished with her appointment and there was still no sign of Ben or his mom.
On the drive home my mom told me that Linda had passed away. The tears welled up in my eyes. My mom suggested we stop for a nice sit down lunch.
At lunch the tears started flowing and suddenly the words came with them. I told my mom about my fear of losing her and how sad it was that Ben would have to grow up without his mom. My mom told me how lucky Ben was to have the love of his biological mother and then this wonderful person, Susan, who would be able to keep his mother's memory alive. She stressed how God never gives us more than we can handle. She also assured me that she was not going anywhere without a fight.
That evening in bed I thought about Linda, Susan and Ben, about my mom, and about all the other wonderful women I had met in that waiting room. I thought about how much I had missed out on just because I was worried my mom would die. I had let fear consume me. I realized we are all in a huge waiting room here on earth, and that it is up to us to make the most of it. I decided from then on I would live my life to the fullest, and always try to keep a smile on my face.