I could feel it as soon as I stepped into the line. She was watching me. I guess you could call it flirting; she batted her eyelashes and smiled. I smiled back then quickly looked down at my phone; the dance of curiosity and self-doubt begins. Suspecting she was eyeing someone behind me – I casually turn my head to see who the lucky person might be; there was no one there.  I swallow hard, my eyes darting around the room for something, anything to justify this awkward Linda Blair-esque head twist Yoga-position I now find myself in.  Nothing! I wonder – Is she still looking at me?

 I slowly turned back to find her eyes in the same intensely fixated glare, inviting me through the glass window. Did she just whisper my name?   Again I turn my head away, though this time it was more of a jerk.   

The blush rushes up my neck. My ears tingle.  I search for anything to avoid her unrelenting, glistening stare.  I glance toward the menu board behind the counter but still feel her now piercing gaze.  Don’t make eye contact! Stay focused!  You’re here for coffee!  But my resolve slowly dissolves; my will power slips away. This has happened before; it’s happening again.  This would not be first time I’ve been seduced while waiting in line at The Cornerstone Coffeehouse.

I give up fighting; surrendering to her omnipotent glaze.  Amidst the assortment of freshly baked muffins, scones, and bagels lined up in the pastry cabinet, it is the copiously glazed cinnamon bun that stands alone as temptress, whispering my name.  

Curiosity and self-doubt have left the building – only wanton lust remains. I need her. The tingling of my ears has moved to the back of my tongue; my mouth waters.  I can taste her, smell her, and feel her; the soothing balm of warm sweetness swirling in my mouth, melting slowly downs the back of my throat.  Adrenaline courses through my body and my heart shamelessly pounds in my chest as I order.

Yes – Warm it up please!  

On most days I usually mostly often sometimes don’t give in.  Today would not be one of those days. But this would not be a typical Friday.

In spite of my confectionary dalliance immediately prior, I arrive at the doctor’s office a few minutes early for my semi-annual check-up.  I was the first patient in the reception area and took a minute to look around.  I remember when Dr. Conroy designed and built this building. He took great pride in commemorating his father’s life here.  A lot of memories echo off the walls; a lot of ground has been gained from the time I was diagnosed with Stage III-B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in September 1994.

I didn’t recognize the receptionist or any of the nurses.  The business manager is new and the one doctor I would recognize was away today.  Even Terry from the blood lab is gone; she would always say while drawing my blood, “You were the best looking bald patient we ever had!”  She may have said those exact words  to everybody, but I definitely will miss that.

Another new nurse takes me to the area to have my vitals checked. While I’m long past taking my shoes and jacket off before I step on the scale, I still have a number of defensive explanations at the ready.

My weight is up (need new knee – can’t do cardio), my blood pressure is a little high (lifted weights at gym this morning), and I have coagulated sugar spots on my lips, chin, chest and pants (having a weak, but delightful, day).While professional, friendly and engaging, new nurse just isn’t the same.  There was a time I felt like the character Norm on the television show Cheers.  Everybody knew my name when I came in for a checkup.  Now they don’t.    I guess that’s one of the drawbacks of being a survivor, the world keeps changing whether I like it or not. People move on, people retire. The harsh reality is it’s not really all about me.

I was led into an examination room to wait for the new doctor.  I wait, sitting on the crinkly white paper covering the examination table. It strikes me I’m probably a little more anxious than I think I should be. Perhaps it’s the new doctor. I’ve been in remission since October 1995. I have no reason to think I’m not healthy and suspect he’ll tell me I am still in remission. Yet my fingers nervously tap the crinkly white paper.

New Doctor and young intern arrive and go through the familiar routine.  Everything is the same except our history.  Honestly only the facts are the same, nothing else feels remotely like I am accustomed to.

“You’re great.  We’ll see you next year.”

The crinkly white paper at my finger tips is now ripped white paper.

In my mind I flashed back to my last day of chemotherapy; that was my lowest day.  After months of multiple visits per week, I was suddenly being cut loose.  In my mind, as long as I was getting chemotherapy, I was being taken care of.  I was “in the nest”.  The last day of chemo was the toughest day of chemo: I just wasn’t sure I could survive on my own.  More than 18 years later I have a similar, though more subtle, reaction to extending checkups from six months to twelve months. It seems so long; a lot can happen in a year.

As healthy as I have been, my 6 month checkups have served as a soothing balm in itself;   A physical check-in is part of it, but there is also a spiritual check-in.   I’m reminded how easy it is for me to get caught up the fancy problems of my life, and not enjoy the simplicity of the most important gift, the gift of the present moment.

I didn’t want to leave the exam room, but new doctor walked me out to the unfamiliar faces at the checkout desk.  I had the feeling of being escorted out of the building.  It was unsettling. Despite all the changes and the new faces, there is a certain comfort in knowing I’ll be coming back.

I looked down at my appointment card and stared.  A year: Wow.  A lot can happen in a year.

10 10 14027

I know one thing for sure; it won’t be a year before I have another glazed cinnamon bun from The Cornerstone Coffee House.  I need that soothing balm.

3 thoughts on “See You Next Year

  1. A wonderful writing, Patrick! I remember from 18 years ago and feel so blessed, honored and privileged to have witnessed your recovery and to have learned first hand from you, the difference between being healed/healing and being cured.

  2. Congrats! I was celebrating your 5 year mark with you on COBS– doesn’t seem like that long ago. Very happy for you and your family!!

  3. WooHoo! 365 one day at a times = another cancer free year. Great story (yours, and the one you just posted).

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