A man sitting on the hands of a clock

Hurry Up and Wait

One of the very first things I experienced during Army basic training was the phrase hurry up and wait. The drill sergeants were constantly yelling at us to move quickly from one location to the next. Yet, once we’d arrive at our destination, we’d wait there hours before we actually ever did anything. The hurry up and wait game, although likely practical in combat type situations, at the time I found it just plain annoying.

Using my Army training

I never imagined my Army training would come in handy so many years later. In 2016, I was diagnosed with two forms of cancer. A rare blood cancer called polycythemia vera or PV was the first. My primary care physician noticed my blood levels were elevated and had me consult a hematologist. Shortly after that, a biopsy of a suspicious lump led to a diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma or breast cancer.

Thanks to these cancers and the plethora of resulting appointments, tests, scans, and lab tests, hurry up and wait has now become my mantra.

PV causes the overproduction of red blood cells. This makes my blood thick and increases my risk of heart attack, stroke, or blood clots. In order to monitor this, my blood levels are checked monthly. Although it’s been close to five years, I still stress from the moment the phlebotomist draws my blood to the appointment when I get the results.

While waiting, usually a day or two later, time seems to crawl. The anticipation causes my mind to go into overdrive with the possible worst-case scenarios. I wonder if my platelets increased to above the normal parameters again. Are my liver enzymes still elevated? Is there any indication my cancer has progressed?

The waiting game

Several times during my cancer journey, a provider would either see something suspicious by an exam or test result. They would immediately order a workup, which generally consists of either more tests, scans, or biopsies to check. The waiting game then begins. Depending on the test, sometimes the wait is two weeks or more.

Every biopsy – and I’ve had a bunch - has been unnerving. This is especially true when you can tell by the technician’s concerned look the results probably won’t be in your favor. Waiting for the results is arduous. It’s like a threatening thunderstorm cloud floating above you. You are never sure when it’s going to drop a torrential downpour.

Early on in my diagnoses, I learned the word scanxiety. Although not an official word in the dictionary, it is a well-known term in the cancer world. The definition is worry and anxiety associated with tests and waiting for scan results.

On top of test or scan results, there’s also waiting for approval for referrals, appointments, procedures, or surgeries. Just recently, I had a skin biopsy with a diagnosis of melanoma in situ. It took me a week to schedule the appointment and then another three weeks to actually have the procedure... ugh.

If I have gained anything from all my hurry-up and wait scenarios, it's patience. As I think back to the drill sergeant yelling in my ear to double-time it to the mess hall, I’m grateful.

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