by Debbie Kerr
This is the second in a series of blog posts that associate a game with one stage of having tests and getting results. The first post was Scans for Cancer: Playing Telephone.
All games that can be associated with the cancer experience have an emotional element. Some people describe the ups and downs of the cancer experience as a rollercoaster ride. From a game perspective, emotions go up and down while waiting for your tests results like a game of Snakes/Chutes and Ladders.
How to Play
Snakes and Ladders (also known as Chutes and Ladders) is a board game with numbered squares. Some squares have nothing additional on them, some have the top or foot of a ladder, and some have the top or end of a snake/chute on them. The object of the game is to reach the last number on the board. After you roll a die, you move that many squares. If the square has the bottom of a ladder on it, you move your figure to the top of the ladder, which will help you get to the last number. If you land on a square with the top of a snake/ chute, you slide down it where the snake/chute ends). In all other situations, the square is just treated like any other numbered square.
First Move – Plain square (no snake/chute to go up, no ladder to go down)
When you start playing a game of Snakes and Ladders, you’re likely to land on a numbered square, where you are neither moving up quickly by landing on the bottom of ladder nor sliding down like you would if you landed on the top of a snake/chute. While the game is not very exciting if no one is landing on a snake or ladder, when it comes to cancer, boring is a good thing.
When I was having tests to determine if I had cancer, everything felt so chaotic. I struggled like everyone else to remain calm. I told myself, “Everything is all right until proven otherwise.” I repeated that phrase each time I had to wait for my test results. This approach worked the first time I had cancer, so I tried to do it again while I waited to see if my cancer had returned.
This was a comfortable place to land; however, I couldn’t just stay on this square. I had to roll again.
Second Move – Bottom of a ladder
Since you’re already at a low point in the game, there are only two types of squares for you to land on (plain square or bottom of a ladder). This means there really is only one place to go…up. I landed on the bottom of a ladder and my mood lifted. I told myself I hadn’t actually felt a lump. There was nothing specific that made me think there was cancer. I was just being careful. Everything was going to be okay. I took a deep breath and climbed the ladder.
I took a break from the game. I found something to keep my mind occupied for a while so I wouldn’t have time to think. In all other aspects of your life, you are told to think first before you act. Now, with a possible cancer diagnosis, your goal is not to think until you have to act.
Third Move – Plain square
At this point, I decided to focus on the fact that I had one less day to wait. Granted, I still had more days to wait, but I had fewer ones than I did before.
Fourth Move – Top of a snake/chute
It had to happen sooner or later, but I had really hoped I could avoid sliding backwards. I thought I was fine, but then I started talking to a friend who had breast cancer before and suddenly, because I was talking to someone who had been there, I felt comfortable letting all the fear surface that I had bottled up inside.
I started thinking ahead. I tried to decide if I would go back to work sooner after surgery than I did the first time. I had worked through chemo and radiation the last time I had cancer and I thought I would do it again. I put off getting a new bra for my prosthetic breast. I figured if I was diagnosed with cancer, I would be having the other breast removed, so I wouldn’t need this type of bra. Mentally, I knew this was crazy. Why was I already making plans? I didn’t even know if I had cancer and here I was already planning the next year of my life.
Fifth Move – Plain square
I knew that I had to stop my line of thinking. I had to “not go there.” I had to take a deep breath, roll again, and hope I would hit a ladder so I could get out of this dark place.
Sixth Move – Bottom of a ladder
At last I was moving up again. I told myself that everything was okay and, if it wasn’t, I had taken action as soon as I thought something was wrong. If there was cancer then it had been caught early.
Seventh Move – Top of a snake/chute
I couldn’t believe that so soon after climbing a ladder to get out of the mental whole I had dug for myself, I had hit the top of a snake/chute again and this slide downward was almost back to where I started. Suddenly I wasn’t feeling confident that I had found my cancer early (cancer I didn’t even know that I had). What if it had spread and I was now Stage IV? What if I never got to be there for my children’s life events?
Eighth Move – Plain square
I was grateful for a plain square. I didn’t care if I landed at the bottom of a ladder. With the constant swinging of my emotions, I was just glad to move slowly and steadily toward the end of the game…when I would get my results. I had just made it through another day.
Once again I found something to keep me busy. The weather was good and I was able to go outside. I enjoyed the sunshine. It was a nice contrast to the dark places I went several times during the day.
More and more moves
And the moves continued and so did the emotional changes. Sometimes I was fine. Sometimes the mind games started and I revisited dark places. Sometimes all I focused on was how many days it would be until I got the results. Sometimes I even thought that there wasn’t going to be a cancer diagnosis.
The game ends…or not
My game of Snakes/Chutes and Ladders ended on the Tuesday after the long weekend. I received the call I had been waiting for. Unfortunately, I wasn’t told that my test results were normal. Instead, I was told to allow myself up to three hours at the hospital the next day for at least a mammogram and ultrasound, possibly more. The mind games continued as I once again waited. Fortunately, this time, I didn’t have long to wait.
Watch for my next post to find out what game I play next.
Over 30-years of writing experience, about 10 years as a cancer survivor, and a lifetime purveyor of wit and laughter.
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