Sandra Steingraber in Orion Magazine:
THIRTY YEARS AGO, in between my sophomore and junior years of college, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Those are amazing words to write: Thirty years ago I had cancer. I had just turned twenty. I was hoping that I would live long enough to have sex with someone; I hadn’t done that yet. I could not have imagined, while lying in my hospital bed, exhaling anesthesia, that someday I could write, Thirty years ago I had cancer.
Last fall, on a sunny afternoon, the phone rang while I was trying to meet a writing deadline. It was the nurse in my urologist’s office. She was calling to say that the pathologist had found, in the urine collected from my last cystoscopic checkup, abnormal cell clusters. And also blood. After I hung up, I looked out the window of my small house where the sun still shone on the last of the marigolds and tomato vines. I looked down at my computer screen where the cursor still blinked on the same paragraph. I could hear in the kitchen the tomatoes still bobbing around in the stockpot that was steaming away on the stove. The world was still the same, but it felt to me a suddenly altered place.
I provided a second urine sample for further testing, and based on the results of that, a third sample that was sent out for genetic analysis. Ten days later, I got a call from the urology nurse. The results were normal. So what am I trying to say here? Am I fine or not fine? Well, I don’t know. I’m living within that period of time known as watchful waiting. Much of my adult life has been one of watchful waiting. Watchful means vigilance, screening tests, imaging, blood work, self-advocacy, second opinions, and hours logged in hospital parking garages. Waiting means you go back to your half-finished essay, to the tomatoes on the stove. You lay plans and carry on within the confines of ambiguity. You meet deadlines and make grocery lists. And sometimes you jump when the phone rings on a sunny afternoon.
Thirty years ago I had cancer.