Stand Still: Watchful Waiting
Last updated: April 2023
On November 11, 2019, I was delivering for Meals on Wheels. It was a freezing day with snow flurries in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I wore my all-weather coat over a heavy sweater. Who knew that my attire and standing still that day would save me a trip to the emergency room?
It's hard to stand still
I have always loved dogs, even large ones. This large dog's name was Midnight. I learned that because I can still hear the owner screaming at him to stop. My Meals on Wheels partner and I had seen Midnight before, and he had never acted aggressively. I had just handed the food package to Midnight's owner when Midnight started snapping at me. First, he bit me on the leg, but luckily I was wearing my heavy boots. Then he clamped down on my right forearm. What to do? Act like a tree and be very still if a dog bites, I remembered from a lesson I had taught my elementary students. The idea is that the dog will understand that you mean no harm and you don't want to play.
My partner tried to distract Midnight by laying out food for him while Midnight's owner kept screaming, "MIDNIGHT, STOP!" The dog finally let go of me, and his owner shooed him inside her house, saying, "I'm so sorry!" to me. That was scary. Fortunately, I walked away with only a large bruise on my arm.
Sometimes it is hard to stand still and wait. My first treatment for myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) was "watch and wait." One person said, "You must not have cancer all that bad if they aren't starting treatment yet." Um, bad enough for me. We Americans like easy and quick fixes, but that can't always happen.
What is watchful waiting?
Watchful waiting or watch and wait describes when a healthcare provider monitors a patient before beginning cancer treatment. For example, I had Complete Blood Counts (CBC) every three months while on watchful waiting for three years after my diagnosis. Some people refer to it as watch and worry, but I tried to think of it as: watch, wait, pray, and learn. Worrying never helps.
Oncologists often recommend observing blood cell counts for patients in the low-risk category of MDS. So after reading about some cancer treatments' side effects, I started thinking, watch and wait sounds good.
Watch and wait is not remission. I had an acquaintance ask, "Are you still in remission, Connie?" She had assumed that because I wasn't taking chemo, my cancer was gone. Wouldn't that be nice? Remission is when signs of the disease disappear.
I read where one doctor said some people don't want to know a lot about their disease, just enough to manage their treatments and symptoms. I can't imagine. Others like me are reading about their condition like they are studying for their final exams in college. There's no wrong way to cope with blood cancer, is there?
During my four-year MDS journey, I have learned a lot. The day I received my diagnosis, I had never heard of MDS. My cousin said, "I wonder why you would get something rare like that?" I have no idea. At this time, my oncologist prescribed monthly injections to boost my hemoglobin, and the only side effect has been fatigue. I compare cancer with Midnight biting my arm: my instinct was to panic and try to shake off the dog. Luckily, I remembered the lesson I had taught my students. Sometimes, watching and waiting works to our advantage.
How do you feel about your support system?