Waiting Rooms

By Emily Rabinowitz

Pulse rapid. Feet tapping. Hands sweating. Eyes frantic.

Every few minutes a family heads through the two large doors to the left. We knew where they had been. When they stepped into the waiting room, we could tell whether they had received good news or bad news. If it was good, we envied them. If it was bad, we avoided eye contact. After all, we knew that it could very well soon be us.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I became very accustomed to this feeling of dread simmering below the surface. The first night after she received the biopsy, I learned the cardinal rule of loving a cancer patient: Don’t look up the statistics. With stage four colon cancer that had spread to the liver and later to her lung, her survival rate was approximately 13 percent. According to everything I read, it was clear she was not going to see me graduate high school.

Here I was, stuck in the prison-like waiting room, surrounded by dozens of desperate family members. Under the suspense of a slowly moving clock, I couldn’t help but remember those statistics, and I was consumed with fear.

What if something went wrong? What if the chemo didn’t work? What if she got another type of cancer?

What if? What if? What if?

When you look up the root of the verb “to fear” you find that the Old Saxon word faron means, “to lie in wait.” In the thousands of moments I spent—and still spend—waiting to see what the future will bring, that definition certainly rings true. When I think back to the waiting room, I can still remember my dad sitting beside me, trying to appear calm for my sake. We both felt the fear, which hung in the air like a poisonous gas. One glance at him revealed his inner struggle to remain positive. On the outside, he frankly refused to admit that, under any circumstances, anything would go wrong. On the inside, I knew he had his doubts. Yet he remained stoic, waiting patiently for her to return.

When I finally saw my mom late that night, the one thing I distinctly remember was the look in her eyes. It was one unlike anything I had ever seen before; it was one of pain mixed with a pure and desperate love. It was the look of someone who realized that she teetered on the brink of death.

My mom is a fifth grade teacher. Every day, she touches the lives of our future generations. Every day, she bears the scars that keep her alive. Every day that she lives is a blessing. Given the context of everything that has happened, we both have every reason to be afraid of the future. Yet, if there is anything that this terrible disease has taught us, it is that every moment means something. Today, when my mom and I think of the future, we do not worry about cancer – we think about May.

This May, she will stand on stage with me, in front of all my friends and family, and present me with my high school diploma. For us, it will be more than a documentation of the past; it will be a symbol of the future. Her presence on that stage will defy every statistic. Her survival will represent the power of the future, and I can’t help but cling to that. I am choosing to look at May as an opportunity to defeat the fear that threatens us. And I am choosing to welcome the future as the gift that it really is.

This is what keeps me here today.

This is what keeps me sane in the waiting room.

This is love.

This is hope.


Leave a Reply

Comments (11)

  1. kathryneann

    Good post. I pray that your mom gets better but in the event she passes, my prayer for you is that you encounter Jesus (if you have not yet) so that He may become the rock of stability you lean on in the days ahead. Life is so precious and every day a gift. Thank you for sharing a glimpse of your journey. Grace and peace be yours. Kate

    Reply  |  
  2. Jackee

    Posts here often strike a note with me, despite the fact that I just turned 54; I am quite the bit older than most of the people who follow or comment on TWLOHA.

    This post made me cry for so many reasons, but the biggest is that I miss my mother so much (she’s been gone 20+ yrs) and that my only daughter is getting married in 9 days. If I hadn’t failed at a suicide attempt last summer she would be standing at that altar without her grandmother AND her mother.

    The pull of wanting the pain to end ebbs and flows. But despite wanting to be reunited with my mother (and I know I will be) my kid is what keeps ME going.

    Maybe is that’s part of the answer, finding the one thing that keeps you going.

    Reply  |  
  3. Lisa Kump


    I was deeply moved by this piece. Since I lost my husband to cancer 12 years ago, I understand the concept of May so very well. I see it as a chance for renewal, rebirth, and reflection. This May both of my children will graduate without their dad present. Just like your mom, I will be awarding my son his diploma as I did for my daughter 4 years ago. I can tell you there will probably never be a prouder moment for you , nor your mom. Celebrate the joy of your love and strength in the face of adversity. Let that power propel you through all the upcoming challenges life will bring, together or alone. Thank you for your inspiration and your beautiful story.

    Reply  |  
  4. Chris Malen

    Dear Emily
    No one could ever read this without a tear in their eye, leaving hope in their heart.
    You are a beautiful young being, who is also an amazing writer. You have a supernatural mother, who loves her family, with all the strength in her soul. Thanks you for showering her with the gift of your inner talent and for sharing it with us also.

    Reply  |  
  5. Betty

    Emily, beautiful words and well written …you are an awesome young lady. God bless and look out world this is one strong young lady.

    Reply  |  
  6. Susan Cihak

    You are an amazing writer and an even better daughter. You have left me breathless; I am thankful that you have shared this.

    Reply  |  
  7. Laura Harvey


    Reply  |  
  8. Kristin Mitchell

    Thank you so much for sharing your blog with me Emily. You are an amazing writer and an incredibly strong young woman. You should be proud of all that you have accomplished and I am honored to be the one reading your name when your mother presents you with your diploma on stage. Best of luck in college – please keep in touch!

    Reply  |  
  9. Angie

    My prayers are with you and your family. I hope with all my heart that your mom survives her battle with cancer, and if she doesn’t, I pray that she will be welcomed into The Lord’s arms and live forever with Him.

    Reply  |  
  10. Joey Decker

    Whoa. That is powerful. Our hearts are effected when words of another touch on the feelings we have experienced separately. Beautifully done.

    Reply  |  
  11. Jessica

    It warms my heart to read this story. My own mother was diagnosed with Stage IV Adrenal Cancer, spread to liver and both lungs, last summer. We have a small family, my mom and older brother and I, with the addition of our cousin who lives in Florida. Less than 5 months after her diagnosis, my mom passed away. Since the diagnosis I found myself facing every fear, every anxiety, every struggle whose possibility plagued me, all become a reality. It is truly an incredible experience, Cancer, in every single way you can think of. Bottom line is that here I am now with the shattered pieces of my new life without my best friend and I have decided that I must use my experience to help others. The things I’ve witnessed inside those waiting rooms, inside the cancer center emergency department…unspeakable. With all the fear and dread also comes an unfathomable amount of love and a hope that whispers gently amidst the chaos, “You are not alone.”

    Reply  |  
Get Email Updates

Sign up for our newsletter to hear updates from our team and how you can help share the message of hope and help.

Join our list