August 18, 2023

Swank Survivor’s Guilt

This ain’t no chintzy coffee table plug-in ‘Zen’ waterfall from Walgreen’s. Located behind the nurses’ desk in the waiting room at my most recent check up was a six-foot wall of black granite with sheets of water cascading into a pool. The sides of the wall were gold with cut out floral motifs. It goes to show, you don’t have to be a Rockefeller to have a cancer check up at the Rockefeller Outpatient Pavilion at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

I was whisked away to my own private changing room. Gold framed mirror. Wicker hamper for the used gowns. A plush pillow top upholstered bench for me to curl up on while I waited. In the exam room the lights were low and Enya emanated from a computer in the corner. Where was my sangria and Thai massage?

I have never understood survivor’s guilt; I’m damn happy to be alive. But I do have swank ultrasound guilt. I have had ultrasounds in rooms with needle wrappers and used bandages littering the floor. I have had ultrasounds in rooms so tiny, not all the doctors could fit in. I have had ultrasounds where the waiting room, bursting at the seams, had more patients than chairs. And the worst: I have had ultrasounds where I sat side by side in the waiting room with bald little kids in Lone Ranger PJ’s waiting their turn.

Some people I interviewed in my book loved being around the kids’ side of cancer. The children were to them bright, happy, and inspirational. For me seeing the cancer kids broke my heart. I don’t mind being brokenhearted over someone else’s sorrow – after all isn’t exposing ourselves to sorrow what best teaches us to be compassionate? But when I am waiting for my own ultrasound to see if the tumors on my jugular have grown, my heart is already breaking over me.

I wanted to hate this ritzy Rockefeller cancer center. To bash it for boasting such decadent décor when there are people in this country who are dying because they could not afford to get to a doctor to diagnose their cancer before it has spread to bones and livers and lungs. I wanted to slam the water fountain and the wicker, the bourgeois vibe to the whole damn experience. But I did not. Instead I was just thankful that in the midst of my nail biting angst, there were no kids. My heart got to break spa style and I soaked it up entirely.

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  1. Ben Calvert Says:
    August 27th, 2008 at 11:19 PM

    Great post! It reminds me of trying to come up with ways of talking about my sister-in-law’s cancer… “She’s kicking its ass” or “the battle continues”… weird uber fictional movie preview lingo to try and bring up life and death family goings on in regular conversation. Life is great, and life is shit, and life is in between… keep the words comin’ friend!

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