After the Cancer Diagnosis
Updated: Dec 22, 2022
By Ali Diamond
How was I supposed to know?
The amount of time that goes from “that’s a concerning amount of weight loss” to “cancer diagnosis” is quick, much quicker than expected. One day you wake up feeling okay, albeit skinny and weak, to the next where it’s suddenly chemotherapy appointments and the unbearable stench of hospital disinfectant.
For me, I describe it as a tsunami. From the first feeling of something off to seeing the water leach from the shoreline to that sudden, horrific realization, to then: the black wall of water. In a matter of seconds.
There’s no time. There’s simply, no time.
There’s some divine pureness to that quickness that comes with a life-alerting diagnosis of stage 4 cancer. It doesn’t give you the opportunity to question your next move, or think about the what-ifs, or give you even the opportunity to mourn. There are no more what-ifs; there’s only now.
For me though; after the initial shock passed, and the hospital visits became more and more frequent but the doctor visits, more and more grim, I found that I was able to push past that insistent quicksand of now. It was like taking a breath after months being wrapped in plastic saran wrap.
This came to me as I slowly walked down the street towards the little bodega a couple of blocks down from the shitty apartment I rented after I started chemotherapy, as the apartment was close to the hospital and cut down on the driving. It’s Springtime now, and hydrangeas are starting to bloom. The bodega owner, a small Mexican woman, lives in the small apartment above the shop, and in her windowsills, she grows absolute bushels of hydrangeas. It’s actually a running joke in the neighborhood; how is she able to get those monstrous flowers to grow neatly in her little blue-and-white window boxes?
She would always laugh when she heard us talking. But as far as I know, she still hasn’t told us the secret. Guess now, I’ll never find out.
See, my grandpa used to grow hydrangeas too. The same color, even. That smell used to fill his entire house, overpowering your olfactories until it became almost unbearable. It was practically seared into my brain. That’s why I can still remember it; even all these years later, and through all the hours spent in that unbearable hospital disinfectant.
I used to spend hours at his house, as a little girl. My parents would drop me off and I’d play there for entire weekends. I can still remember running through the long hallway of his house, straight into the backyard with the enormous, glittering greenhouse. There, I’d find my grandpa. Standing amongst the hydrangeas with his green overalls and yellow clipping shears.
“We’re like these flowers,” He’d always say to me, as he would pause to check on each flower in each of the endless rows. “Unaware of our own beauty and presence, until we’re clipped.”
“Life is short.” He’d say to me, as he clipped the flowers. “Live in the beauty until you can’t.”
I stood there in the street, feeling tears fall down my face as I cried for the first time since my initial diagnosis. As the tears fell gently down my face, the smell of the hydrangeas became overpowering and the black wave of the tsunami threatened to take my feet out from under me.
My grandpa was right, life IS short. But how was I supposed to know exactly how short it was going to be?