Photo Credit: Jim Higley
I haven’t shared this with many people, but I was a hall monitor in ninth grade. Fourth period.
My post was the east end of the second floor. At the top of the staircase and directly across from the bathrooms. From my vantage point, I could keep track of the comings and goings of everyone. Being a relatively nosey kid, it was a perfect job.
I learned who teachers chummed around with, I was the first to know when parents were called to the principal’s office, and I had a front row seat to witness which kids were in hot water with our guidance counselor. I also knew a lot about my classmates’ bathroom habits.
One of those kids was Jeff. He was in my grade. And he needed a fourth period bathroom break every day. It didn’t take too long for me to figure him out.
You see, Jeff really didn’t need to use the bathroom. But he was a master at milking that hall pass -- a five-minute permission slip to leave the classroom -- to it’s fullest. He’d walk in and out of the boys’ room long enough to check his hair. Then he’d come back to the hall and peruse the trophy case, read the posted daily lunch menu, and anything else he needed to do to fill-up each and every one of his allowed 300 seconds.
He always had a smile. A bounce in his step. He savored his hall pass. And he always gave me a “thumbs up” as he slipped back into the classroom during his last few seconds of reprieve.
I never understood Jeff.
Until I had cancer.
But now I live hall pass to hall pass. And, like Jeff, I savor them. I’m issued them in three-month increments as I go in for my quarterly tests, which look for early signs of recurrence. I started this regime within months of my initial surgery and have continued with them regularly ever since. My specific type of cancer (prostate) has a tendency to stay dormant for several years then wake up. So the goal of these tests is to detect sleepy cancer cells while they are still rubbing their eyes.
“How long will we do this,” I asked my oncologist a couple of years after we started the tests.
“Until you die,” he replied. He wasn’t joking.
So I’ve learned to live three months at a time.
And you know what? There’s some good perks that come along with that perspective on life.
I’ve learned to live in the present. I say, “yes” more often. I sleep well. I listen better. I look at my children differently. I affirm who they are to me. I tell them I’m proud of them. I cheer. For anyone who needs my cheering. I change my daily schedule when something captures my attention. I send people notes. I try to be aware of what I’m grateful for. I try to not stew over things I can’t change.
But I’m always aware of the timing of the hall pass I’m currently holding.
And just like my 9th grade buddy, Jeff, I’ve learned to milk that hall pass down to the very last second. Most of it I do in silence. I don’t often talk about it. But I think about it. Often.
Because I know the next series of tests could be the one that brings the news I don’t want to receive.
My last set of test results arrived yesterday while I was out running errands with my daughter. We were at the gas station. And as I was standing next to the pump waiting for my $75 purchase to flow, I noticed the regular e-mail I get from my oncologist with the test results.
And, as I always do, I questioned whether or not I would read it. If it had good news, then a new hall pass was now in my hands. If it contained bad news, there was no going back.
I looked in the car and saw my daughter playing with the radio dials. I did an internal “emotions check” to see if I really wanted the news, right there. In public.
I decided to open the e-mail and quickly scanned the dozen or so numbers I know all too well. Looking for acceptable ranges. Making sure there were no red flags. And all was good. One more time.
An e-mail that two minutes ago presented the possibility of a death sentence morphed into my new three-month hall pass. All before the gas pump clicked off.
“Where are we off to next?” my daughter asked as I jumped back in the car.
“Wherever you want,” I told her. “I’ve got all the time in the world for you.”