We sat in a doctor's office, my family and I, awaiting a diagnosis we had dreaded for over three months. We sat there in a windowless, colourless room, facing a brisk but kindly doctor who was so polished it was clear he had done this many times before. We held our collective breath as he began to tell us what we didn't want to hear. Even when you have time to prepare, you are never quite ready.
With one hand I reached for my husband, with the other I pinched myself as hard as I could so as to not give in to my mounting panic. I needed to focus and stay calm. When the verdict finally came I looked at the person it was being delivered to, sitting tall, composed and brave, and my heart broke into a thousand pieces. I could not breathe.
Getting life-altering news is akin to drowning. I feel I can make such a statement because I almost lost my life in a lake when I was little. I can still remember that feeling of utter shock when I took two steps forward in the shallow water where I had been playing and suddenly felt the ground beneath me fall away. The mind spins in disbelief, the toes try to stretch towards a bottom that is no longer there as water simultaneously washes over your head, blurring your vision and muffling sounds. Something like electricty surges through your entire body. A split second and everything familiar no longer is.
In shock, you come up for air, try to find the horizon. Every ounce of energy is directed towards keeping your head above water and gulping for breaths of air. You notice the most mundane things; floating seaweed, a cloud. Even decades later, these images remain hauntingly sharp.
All of this flashed through my mind as the doctor spelled out possible treatment options and scientific data meant to encourage us. Lifelines.
Stunned, we all heard only what our personal filters would allow and the good doctor seemed to understand this. He kept things simple and encouraged a summer of rest and adjustment even as he offered us his expertise.
In the days and nights that followed, staying very close for mutual support, we began to look beyond the immediate, towards the horizon, as it were, and lo and behold, we saw that we are surrounded by people standing on the shore with outstretched arms. Our friends and family, many of whom have actually waded in to help us, are giving us the greatest gift there is; love and support in whatever form they can give it. Thanks to them we are able to breathe again.
We are not going to drown after all, but we will have to learn to swim, all of us, in this unchartered deep water that until last week, looked deceivingly like a picturesque shallow lake.