I Saw Myself Her Sitting There

Yesterday I had one of my (now) 4-monthly check-ups. All went well. Dr. Awesome was less personable than usual but seemed pleased with my examination. The mysterious burn that I suffered during the surgery (explained in some doctor-speak I didn’t really understand but I think basically the cauterizing iron got some good skin) is by far the least healed bit. That’s looking yucky but nothing relatively major.

The most remarkable thing about the day was the wait. The doctor was about 40 minutes behind this time, and Del and I sat patiently in one of the semi-private waiting rooms. Each has a cluster of about 6 chairs enclosed on three sides by plants and half-walls, which preserves a quiet and intimate atmosphere. Del and I were in a cluster by ourselves when a woman came out of the office in front of us. In her late 30’s or early 40’s, she was stylishly dressed in heels, dark jeans and a fur-type jacket. Very well put together, which seemed strikingly incongruous against that fact that it was obvious she had been crying mere moments before. She had gathered herself to sit in our mini-waiting room for a few minutes before being called into another door.

I remembered so well being her. I had come out of the office, face all red and blotchy. I hated that everyone there must know precisely the news I had just received. As she sat there lost in her thoughts, sniffing and wiping her eyes, I felt a lump in my throat. I felt so bad for her, knowing how scared she was right at that moment. I so wanted to reach over and offer comforting words. To tell her that she would be alright. To assure her they would give her the best care. She wasn’t even with a loved one to put an arm around her.

But I didn’t. Because you just don’t know what people want to hear in that moment. And you certainly don’t know if they want to hear it from a stranger that she probably wished wasn’t there. After all, I suppose I can’t really know that she’ll be okay, which made me more sad. (I mean, I’m completely optimistic. But she might repond with the thought that I can’t actually know it.) I had no idea how to make words not sound shallow. So I just averted my eyes to give her as much privacy as possible which I guessed is what she wanted most. Del caught my eye and squeezed my hand.

I didn’t make it better for her. But I wanted to. Instead I have just thought about her since, and hope that she has been comforted and found support.

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7 Comments

Filed under breast cancer, diagnosis, hair

7 responses to “I Saw Myself Her Sitting There

  1. It is absolutely gut wrenching to sit there in front of someone unable to do anything. You just wish that she had someone with her who cared. The only thing worse than suffering, is suffering alone

  2. Sarah you are at the part of the journey where you can look back and your compassion and empathy are at the forefront. Because you are in the trenches and have been that person. It’s part of the experience and I think one of the best.

    We’ve had situations where we want to comfort but aren’t sure what the “right” move is to make. You chose to allow this woman her privacy even while sharing space with her. I think that was thoughtful and compassionate. And she’s still on your mind which means to me that you wanted to do more and wish you could have. I think it was her being alone that was most troublesome. Had she been with someone else you would not have felt this as deeply..you would have still felt it but known she had someone with her to console her.

    My impulse would have been to say nothing, to just go over and give her shoulder a squeeze or a hug. Even from a stranger..the physical touch can be so healing. One thing I have learned since breast cancer is to follow my impulses and my hunches…we are all the same in our deep down spirit.

    I think you writing about this has been a good thing for yourself and those of us who read your blog…it brings up a valid and interesting situation for future reference. And again, I think you did do a wonderful thing by choosing to respect her privacy. That was huge.

  3. There really is no wrong way to act in that situation as long as your thoughts and actions originate from a place of compassion. I still remember vividly getting my news at work. I sat in my cubicle crying on the phone with my doctor while my coworkers hovered behind me just out of sight. Once I was off the phone I didn’t turn around. They didn’t know what to do. There was a single hand on my back here, an “is there anything we can do?” there. But the one thing that stands out clearly and firmly, the one strand of an unraveling life line that I held on to and repeated as a mantra for the next few weeks was my friend Jennifer’s words as she squeezed my shoulders, “You are going to be fine.”

    I don’t know why her words affected me so deeply. I certainly knew that she couldn’t possibly know that for sure. Maybe it was because her father had just been fighting colon cancer and she knew what it meant to get the call. Or maybe it was just that she was willing to venture out on that limb for me and verbalize something that she HOPED was the truth so that maybe it would BE the truth. Sometimes it’s the smallest things…

  4. Kim

    It’s so hard to know what to say in this kind of situation. I think I would have reacted just like you did…wanting so badly to offer comfort but uncertain about whether or not or how to do so.

    Recently I was in an elevator with a complete stranger who had super-short hair. I wondered if perhaps her hair was just growing back after chemo, but didn’t say anything. The elevator ride was relatively long, and she kept looking at me in my scarf and I sensed that she, too, wanted to say something. We didn’t make eye contact, but we were each acutely aware of the other. After she got off the elevator at her floor, my husband (who was also in the elevator) said that he thought the woman wanted to say something to me.

    I wish now that one of us would have found the words and started the conversation.

    And reading your post and Joel, Sherry and Stella’s comments, I hope that the next time I will find the words.

  5. Words … are so hard in times like these.

    Thank you for finding the words to share how you felt about it later. It’s true, we each react differently, and it’s hard to know what’s best. But you put it perfectly into words here.

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