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.