One became two. It was watching and biding its time. I let it. I was racing, and why shouldn’t I? Life was tumbling, swirling, swelling, and receding all around me. While it grew within me, I was frantically waiting. I was waiting to finish my studies, waiting to climb higher, waiting to cross the street, and waiting to become who I was meant to be. I was potential energy, turned kinetic, and back again.
There was just one month left until my college graduation, and even less time until I submitted my application for medical school. Everything that I had worked for was becoming a reality. The finish line and the starting line were beginning to blur, but all that mattered to me was that I could see it.
I was standing still at a frenetic pace and watching everyone around me do the same. Except, they were faster. Did I know something was wrong then all those months ago? I could no longer finish that last set at the gym like I used to be able to, but I had been going less. After all, I was busy. My previously gargantuan appetite withered, but we were spending more time at home because of the pandemic. It was probably nothing.
In fact, what a blessing this turned out to be. Why spend time eating when I could spend time at the lab, in a book, or at the shelter. If I could just convince myself for another month that everything was going to be ok, it would give me just enough time to take that big entrance exam. Maybe it really would be ok. Two became four.
I was twenty-one. There was no time to slow down. Did everyone not know that I was trying to do something important?
Citius, Altius, Fortius. I forgot the only games I was playing were in my head.
I knew that if I threw myself into the work, it would take care of me. I thought that was what it took to be the best. If I wanted to be more than, it would take sacrifice, and I was sacrificing, wasn’t I? Besides, no one my age got sick anyway, at least not seriously. We were all invincible. Death was a subject that seemed more suited for a fictional book than a textbook. Nothing bad could ever happen to me. Four became eight.
I needed to slow down, but the world was only speeding up. Soon, rumors began to spread that a mysterious illness was leaking out of a faraway land, but rapidly, the rumor took shape. The virus was in my community, and it was disproportionately affecting certain populations. Eight became sixteen.
I am not a healthcare provider, so my battle would not be fought in the hospitals, but I knew that the shelter system was being overwhelmed, so I signed on at an emergency location. Granted freedom from college classes for a time, I could fully commit to this mission. The circumstances did not allow for social distancing, but I protected myself as well as I could, and I returned day after day. I would enter the facility at 5:45 each morning to clean and serve meals with a kind word. It was not much, and I knew it paled in comparison to what thousands of individuals were facing every day, but I was making a difference in my community. I watched my parents, physicians themselves, go to work each day and face much more dangerous conditions than I was. That was their part to play. This was mine. In the end, I only lasted for two weeks before I woke up one morning with an anvil on top of my chest. Sixteen became thirty-two.
I knew this was bound to happen, but that was alright with me. I was young and perfectly healthy. It should be me. I could take it. Thirty-two became sixty-four. Except, I couldn’t. I became far sicker than I ever imagined possible. I was arrogant in my ignorance. As I spiraled downward, the sleeping giant inside me awoke. The endlessly patient foe.
Sixty-four cells soon became hundreds. Hundreds of cells soon became thousands. Thousands of cells became countless.
The shameful part was that I was not even the one who decided it was time to rest. There was no redemption arc for my character. No come to Jesus moment where I realized that silence and the absence of sound are different concepts. The universe had decided that it was turning my reckless sprint into a sluggish crawl one way or another.
It was not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We all know that story. It was my own flesh and blood. Ironically painless and sinisterly patient. Life exploded inside me. Golf ball-sized tumors protruded from my neck, and a mass resembling a grapefruit came to rest, ever so tenderly, on top of my heart. My own immune system had turned against me in my time of need. Racked with pain and glued to a bed, I thought back to all those months ago when I refused to slow down and when I refused to be patient.
Now I was one.
The cancer was done waiting. From there, all I knew were white coats, concerned faces, whirring machines, big needles, bad news, and wet eyes.
My wait had just begun.