The waiting room: What waiting for my cancer results taught me about uncertainty

Waiting sucks. And cancer treatment involves a lot of waiting. Waiting to get your blood drawn. Waiting for the chemo orders to come through. Waiting around while that chemo drip… drip… drips into your body. Waiting for the anti-nausea meds to kick in. Waiting for doctors to find a bone marrow match.

For example, after I was diagnosed with an aggressive leukemia, I spent a month in the hospital getting hammered with heavy-duty chemotherapy to get my rogue blood cells under control. They didn’t pull any punches, and by the time they were done with me I felt like a dried-up leaf, one puff of wind away from crumbling apart.

Unfortunately, it would be another two weeks before they could tell if their pharmaceutical Blitzkrieg succeeded in getting me into remission.

Even though expertise of my oncologists led me to believe that my cancer treatment would work, those two weeks felt like two years. The anxiety of waiting is real — and a real pain in the butt.

But we can all do things to make the metaphorical waiting rooms in our lives easier to bear.

For starters, find healthy distractions. Read a book. Go for a walk. Get a jump on your kid’s Halloween costume. Don’t marinate in your Twitter feed or in front of the news. Remember, momentum is your friend.

Mindfulness also helps. Take deep breaths and practice meditation (I use the Headspace app).

Meanwhile, focus on what you can control. Organize your home office to make this stretch of telecommuting more productive. Create meal plans that help minimize the number of times you need to visit the grocery store. Make a schedule for the day to create a sense of normalcy.

And don’t forget to connect. For me, chatting with other patients in the waiting room on a chemo day always made me feel better.

So reach out. You might find relief from a friend’s reassuring perspective or ease the tension in your chest by venting your worries to someone else in the same boat.

A couple weeks after I was discharged, the results of my latest bone marrow biopsy arrived. It was April 16th—my mom’s birthday—and the molecular test showed that I was indeed in remission. I still had a long, perilous journey ahead of me.

But for the moment, those worries could wait.