As of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about last year. In my recollections, I realized that I did not fully explore all of my emotions. Probably because there were too many to filter. I’m sure I somehow weeded through the mess while out on a run or driving to work. But on here, for you, I did not tell all.
Fear and an inability to recognize what I was actually experiencing drove me to bury my head in my work and take on the role of caretaker for my mom; a role I was more than happy to serve in.
But like a dream that you recall after waking, I am remembering moments from last year that I feel I should share. Not to clear my conscience or set the record straight, but because maybe you’re a daughter who just discovered your mom has breast cancer. I don’t have magical words and wands to heal and solve your own battle with breast cancer. I just have my memories to let you know that you’re not alone.
Days after my mom underwent emergency open heart surgery (unrelated to breast cancer, but a scare nonetheless), I boarded a plane for a two-week business trip to Norway with my employer at the time.
Months of preparation and planning had gone into my journey. Without getting into the details of the trip’s purpose and itinerary, essentially I was part of a two-part team traveling to various cities throughout Norway working with locals to set up and run large conferences.
Aside from forgetting to put my luggage all the way through to Sandnes from Amsterdam, a night spent half-sleeping/crying/waiting for my lost luggage to hopefully arrive and watching re-runs of American television shows with Norwegian subtitles, I had a relatively incident-free two weeks abroad (prior to my trip I had watched Taken. A not-so-brilliant movie choice on my part).
Until the last night.
As I mentioned, I was part of a two-part team. My second week in Norway overlapped with the other team’s first week. Their arrival was a welcome sight. The co-workers on that team were fun and funny; natural class-clowns to bring some more humor to our group. Though I did not work in the same department as any of them, our roles did cross on occasion.
After my final conference, I rode back to the hotel with a car-full of my male co-workers. Stuffed in the middle seat in the back of a European station wagon, I was exhausted and ready to sleep a few precious hours before boarding my flight home at whatever ungodly pre-dawn hour our airport shuttle was scheduled to pick us up.
It was on that car ride where one of the high-up supervisors asked me, “So, Megan, are you ready to go home?” The car was quiet at the time, everyone waiting for my answer. I stumbled through a response, “No, not really. I mean, I do miss my job and can’t wait to get back to work…but….ummm.” I was pretty sure career experts around the world were shaking their heads at my botched answer, but it was the truth. I wasn’t ready to go home (You can read about my Norwegian adventure, or at least the little I wrote about it, here).
Once in the lobby of the hotel in Kristiansand, I said goodbye to the high-up supervisor and headed for the elevator with two co-workers. As the elevator took us up to our floors, both men were joking about what would happen if I missed my flight. When the doors opened for their floor, they noisily made their exit, turned around and exclaimed, “Megan, do NOT miss your flight. Don’t sleep in.”
As the elevator doors closed, I could still hear them reminding me not to miss my shuttle, to set my alarm, and make sure I packed everything. Laughing, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were speaking from previous experience.
Alone in the elevator, the doors closed. I pushed the button for my floor once again. And again. Nothing was happening. I wasn’t moving. I had visions of the elevator plummeting to the basement. A story of a friend who had worked at a resort popped into my head – he told me the staff used to open the elevator doors in between floors so they could see above and below them. That memory scared me into not trying to re-open the elevator doors because I wasn’t even sure what floor or in between floors the elevator was on. Panic silenced any strength to scream or call out for help. I wasn’t sure if I should push the emergency button, or at least what I was pretty sure was the emergency button.
I tried to process the situation. I am alone. Stuck. In an elevator. In a foreign country.
That wasn’t helpful, so I pushed the button for my floor one more time, praying it would work.
By this point, I had ceased breathing, holding my breath to save the oxygen in the elevator in case I was in it for the long haul. I could see the Rescue 911 video playing in my head with Norwegian subtitles as I waited for the elevator to move.
In what seemed like hours, I finally felt the elevator jolt before carrying me up to my floor. The doors opened and I ran onto solid ground, thankful to be out of the confined space.
I’m not sure why I didn’t write about that last year. I don’t think I even really thought much about it after I returned home.
Now, almost a year later, I think I remember it because it was an incident that symbolized my inner most fears.
The fear of being alone. Stuck. Not moving up or down. Caught between two floors.
That’s where I was at. Days away from my mom starting chemotherapy. Days after my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Caught between two worlds – the world I knew and the world I didn’t.
Breast Cancer does that to a person. One minute you’re riding up an elevator, planning what you’ll do when you arrive on your floor. The next thing you know, the elevator is stuck. Suspended between where you were and where you’re going; unmoving. Whether you’re the patient or the patient’s _____________ (insert title here), it’s all the same.
You feel stuck.
Sure, you may be going ahead with treatment plans. Signing documents and calling your insurance provider, but emotionally, you’re stuck in an elevator. All alone.
What you don’t realize, and what I failed to sometimes understand, is that you’re not alone. In another building, across the street or around the world, someone else is stuck. Other people are stuck on their own elevator rides, unable to push the correct buttons. Alone and afraid of plummeting to the bottom. Uncertain if they’ll ever reach their destination.
But they will. You will. I did.
You’re not alone in that elevator. There are thousands of other people trapped in their with you, waiting to arrive at their floor.
No matter what happens on your elevator ride, you’re not alone.