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by Heather J. Johnson

Waiting. Waiting for test results. Waiting in waiting rooms. Waiting while on hold with health care providers. Waiting for the doctor to call.

This is my life, waiting. Waiting to feel better. Waiting to have more energy. Waiting to feel less pain.

I am learning about waiting, whether I want to or not. I always thought I was a patient person but now I'm tired of waiting. I've been tired of waiting.

Did it all start with waiting, with waiting too long? Waiting too long to see the doctor about the rash and breast changes?

Or did it start with waiting for a correct diagnosis? Waiting for cancer treatment to start, waiting for my hair to fall out, waiting for chemo to end, waiting for my hair to grow back. Waiting in a small room on a gurney listening to a tape through headphones before surgery. And after surgery, waiting to be able to drive, to do my laundry, to reach up into a kitchen cabinet without pain. Waiting for the visiting nurse to change the bandage over my leaking scar, waiting to gain more mobility. Waiting for the peeling and rawness from radiation to heal.

But even if the chemo-induced nerve damage in my feet disappears, and my energy returns, and the arm swelling from lymphedema vanishes, there never really will be an end to waiting. No, there is no end because there will always be the waiting in the back of my mind, the wondering about every new pain or swelling or change in my body, however minute or ostensibly harmless. The waiting you can't escape from once you have a cancer diagnosis: the waiting for recurrence or metastases or the end of remission, the end of the temporary reprieve. No matter how joyful or happy or active I am, there will always be a part of me, waiting.

A graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, Heather is a freelance writer currently working on a collection of short memoir pieces called Journey to a New Normal about her experience as a breast cancer survivor. In 2006, several of her pieces were featured in Breast Cancer Diaries, a week-long series created from her work on the National Public Radio affiliate WFCR. The broadcasts can be heard online at http://www.womenarts.org/network/profile_2169.html. Diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) in 2003, Heather has written articles as well as given talks and interviews about IBC, an aggressive and deadly type of breast cancer that is often undetected and misdiagnosed, as hers was. Originally from the Midwest, Heather now lives in Massachusetts .