(May 22, 2000)

Several Sunday nights ago my husband, Bill, developed some worrisome symptoms. I took him to see our doctor at 8:30 Monday morning, and by 2 he was in the hospital, on IV’s and preparing for the first of two blood transfusions. On Tuesday a gastroenterologist told me Bill had a bleeding ulcer — or stomach cancer. The odds were 50/50. Bill came home on Wednesday, and on Thursday afternoon we saw our family doctor. “We don’t know yet if it’s cancer,” he told us. “We may have to wait another week.”

A week??? I couldn’t believe it. Here we are at the beginning of the 21st century. I can send e-mail to the other side of the country and hear back in ten minutes. One-hour photos have been standard for years. So why does it take up to nine days for a pathology report? Nine days that seem like ninety because they are spent in limbo? “It’s a process with results that require careful interpretation,” the doctor explained.

Bill and I tried not to alarm our three children about his health. It was late at night when he was awake figuring out if there would be enough money for me and the girls if he died. So many of their friends’ parents are divorced, and we’ve always assured them Bill and I would never split up. We have control over that. But suddenly I couldn’t be certain I wouldn’t be a single parent after all. I felt like crying every hour at the thought of my daughters becoming young women without their father’s gentle, yet strong male influence. I knew I’d be devastated without him. My daily walks with our dog, instead of being a time of inspiration and rejuvenation, were when I imagined the worst.

And if Bill did have cancer, I wanted to know so we could schedule surgery and any other possible life-saving treatments. But we had to wait. And wait.

The GI doctor called one week after the biopsy. “It’s not cancer,” he said. I cried then, too — tears of joy.

I’ll be listening to NPR even more closely for news that faster tests for cancer have been developed. I just know it can be done. Dante may have described limbo as the place between heaven and hell, but I spent seven days in limbo: It’s hell.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.