Listener Essay - The Call

Oct 22, 2014

  Kathy Cohen lives in Guilderland, NY. She is a retired teacher's assistant from Albany High School. She is also a memoir writer, storyteller, and visual artist.

The Call

Did they lose my mammogram? Why hasn't the doctor's office returned my calls asking for the results? Does hearing no news really mean good news; that everything's fine? I telephoned three times in two days; waiting was hard. It had been over a week, almost two and I was a wreck. I couldn't rest not knowing. Years of previous mammograms supplied me with timely letters congratulating me on my normal, breast health. I had not received the letter yet. Why not?

The CALL came during a moment when I had forgotten to consciously wait and worry about my health. Of course it did. Life's like that! “Will Kate Cohen please come to the South House Office for a phone call”, the loud speaker announced through the building. THE CALL ?….My heart leaped within me as I jumped out of my seat in the auditorium of the Albany High School where I was immersed in the dress rehearsal of a play my students were performing. I was a Special Education Teacher Assistant and given the opportunity of attending their rehearsal for a play that we all had written together. I was glowing in their courage and confidence on the set where the play's message was self acceptance .Every so often some of them would glance where they sensed I was sitting, watching them and enjoying them.”Will Kate Cohen please come to the.......” and I flew anxiously out of the auditorium doors and landed through new doors where I'd hear the telephone voice of the Doctor's receptionist say, “We found a suspicious sight on your mammogram, will you please pick up your paperwork and mammogram and take them to St. Peter's Hospital for further examination.”

God…

But before racing out of school that afternoon to grab my possible doom from the doctor's office, I needed to return to the kids in the auditorium as they were acting their parts with all their heart and catch their spirit before I left. Life will wait a little longer, I smiled thinking as I re-entered their performance. The kids, with all their challenges and diverse abilities had waited a very long time to achieve their chance to shine like other kids their age. I was not about to miss this last rehearsal. And I relished their moment as my own heart popped with my own unknown next step.

I was officially diagnosed with breast cancer on December 14, 1996.. “We'll fight this together”, reassured the young surgeon. “We'll get through”, he said. I cried. My husband Jim cried too.I didn't know how to be a Cancer patient even though so many of my family died from this disease. And I felt too healthy to be this ill!

All that year I waited in Oncology offices, atop surgeon tables. I waited for test results and any good news I could get. I met folks in waiting rooms week after week who gallantly got themselves together in their scarves and wigs waiting for their own stories to unfold on their own Doctor's charts. “How are you feeling?” “You look great””we're lucky to have such a great doctor”. The patients cheered each other on as they waited for a hopeful word from a professional.

The spirit of these people I met in waiting rooms and support experiences, filled my heart with hope bigger than my own illness. I gradually understood the way humans learn to blend life and death and uphold the moment they were in. No self pity as they chatted together or read nutrition magazines. I wanted to be like them. My spirit could be bigger than Cancer no matter my mortality. I would work for that.

The glorious part of this experience where waiting with destiny's endurance was crucial, were the gifts of time and energy to live fully while I was waiting to heal. I was grateful to work and wait through my fear and teach myself to stay in the moment. A lesson I wait continue to learn.