caterpillars don't will themselves into butterflies. they wait themselves into butterflies.
Yesterday I went to the appointment with my new oncologist. He was wise, he took a lot of time with me to understand my history. He identified gaps in my care -- tests that haven't been done that should've been, new genetic testing that's available, new treatment options. As I wrote about yesterday, it was hard for me to re-trace my cancer history. It was hard for me to encounter a new person who may know everything about my medical history but doesn't know ME. As I sat in the exam room waiting for twenty minutes, shivering in a thin hospital gown, the memories washed over me and I remembered the anxiety, the tears, the uncertainty I've felt over the past decade of dealing with breast cancer.
After my oncologist performed my exam (I always hold my breath as oncologists' fingers probe for swollen lymph nodes and unwelcome lumps), he ordered tests, planned out the next six months of my treatments to keep my cancer nemesis from recurring, and left the room.
He was great, but the rest of my UCSF experience was deeply disappointing.
A genetic counselor -- whom I wasn't expecting to meet with -- showed up and, with a concerned look on her face, told me all the cancers I was at risk for that I didn't even know about. I didn't have a choice about what kinds of cancers I could get. The only option I had was how I would be tested for these risks: saliva or blood.
I was told to go to the 5th floor for an injection that I'd scheduled 6 weeks ago...and found out, once I got there, that the staff hadn't prepared it or contacted my insurance to get it approved.
A medication I was prescribed wasn't in my discharge packet, so I went back to the oncology floor to get a written prescription for it and three nurses told me it had been sent to my pharmacy already. I called my pharmacy and checked my online patient account and told the nurses it hadn't been sent. They insisted (five times) that it had, so I left. In tears. Feeling I had been dismissed and unheard.
I changed into scrubs and got ready for work, feeling discouraged and overwhelmed and .... I don't know. Some emotions are hard to articulate.
On my way to work, I got two phone calls. One, telling me that the injection was ready and asking why wasn't I in the waiting room. Two, that I was right about the prescription -- it hadn't been sent to my pharmacy, it did require a signed paper copy. So I had to sign up for a prescription delivery service, block out three hours of my day the following day, and pay out of pocket for the delivery fee.
It left me wondering if all this effort, all this trying, all this persistence to stay alive and beat this cancer and be present on this planet is worth it.
When I got to clinic, I spent a few minutes in the bathroom, taking deep breaths, choosing not to worry about what the test results might show, what new obstacles or fears or pain might lie in my future, choosing to push past the disappointments of the day. Trusting that in spite of it all, there's a Hope and a Future waiting for me on the other side of it all.
And then I worked my shift, trying to treat my patients with the attention and care I hadn't received as a patient myself earlier that day.
My friend Reba calls this "Couraging."
I woke up this morning feeling a tiredness I don't know how to name, a disappointment I didn't expect to feel, a vulnerability I don't like to talk about because I feel like it's a burden to other people.
I called my Reba, while I was still in bed, while I was still tearful, while I was still processing how hard yesterday was for me.
We talked about low moments, hard experiences, want-to-stay-in-bed kind of days. Days when you feel like you want to be light and graceful and full of energy, like a butterfly, but instead you're motionless in a still cocoon, waiting out the darkness.
As we talked, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes -- "Just when the caterpillar thought was over, it became a butterfly."
Caterpillars and butterflies.
I've read a lot about them.
Caterpillars, once they climb into the cocoon, disintegrate into mush. And then they wait.
They wait until the transformational process has been complete -- and then they emerge as a butterfly.
Caterpillars don't WILL themselves into butterflies. They WAIT themselves into butterflies.
And that, I think, is the key to living well. The key to persisting even when we're discouraged and overwhelmed and disappointed. When we want to believe that living and persisting is worth it -- but we can't remember why.
Yesterday before I went to my oncology appointment, I wrote about the feelings and memories that oncology appointments bring up for me.
This morning, I found so many kind comments on social media, lots of concerned texts, lots of kind emails from family and friends.
I felt loved, supported, embraced.
And even though yesterday was hard, and today is harder still, I have the courage to persist. Even though I'm not yet the butterfly I want to be, the cocoon I'm waiting in is steeped with love.
Life is hard, my friends -- we all know that. We all experience that at some point. Maybe as you read this, you're sitting in a cocoon of uncertainty and waiting and wondering. Or you know someone who is.
And in these times, I think it's important to remember that transformation doesn't always come by willing it to be; it often comes by waiting until it is.
And until that happens, until the dark breaks open and the light shines through and we find our wings to soar, we can love each other back to Life. We can hold each other in the Light -- even now, while we're waiting for our wings.