On Monday I wrote a letter to Santa asking him for things, but after the events of the last two days I’m revising my wish list:
All I want for Christmas is to stay alive.
…So I can be there for my children as they grow up.
Yesterday I went in for my annual mammogram. I had to force myself to go. Not only that, this whole mammogram thing has in the last two days conjured up the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. I had my own version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol…in the radiology department.
I do not like medical buildings, the hospital smell of sickness and disinfectant and doom. It all scares me. I don’t like how in the waiting room the only magazines they have to distract you from your mortality are a Paleolithic copy of Boating and a 2004 issue of Good Housekeeping. In the waiting room, my Inner Hypochondriac (IH) had already convinced me that I was riddled with cancer, and was
probably certainly going to die. I kept reminding myself of the saying: “Your mind is a dangerous neighborhood. Don’t go in alone.” —> but I couldn’t stop myself. I went.
The technician squished my boob into the machine. Everything was routine. But when she paused while looking at the screen, my IH was on High Alert and had entered the very worst of neighborhoods.
I wanted to ask the technician, Has the tumor gone metastatic and spread to my brain? but got ahold of myself and asked her if there was anything wrong.
She didn’t answer me and instead asked cryptically if I had ever a biopsy on my left breast. I told her I had, a few years ago. She stared at the screen some more. I detected an iota of something being wrong. Then she told me I could go. I fled.
At home I had four voice mails – two from the radiology dept., and two from my doctor. Of course, I mentally planned my funeral before I even listened to them. They told me had “seen something” on the mammogram. They wanted to know if I could come back “immediately” for a second one.
Well, that really fucked me up.
I went all Chicken Little. No – I went so much further than Chicken Little ever did. Also, my husband is out of the country, this man is always out of the country when something bad happens, so as usual I had to hang around the bad hood all by myself.
After hanging up the phone with my doctor it took me just two minutes to experience a tectonic, psychic shift in my entire outlook on life - a cooking down of all that matters. I understood immediately:
- I’m not afraid of death.
- I’m scared to death of dying and leaving my children motherless.
I called a friend in California, who said, “Of course, I’m sure your mind has turned to Stephanie and is remembering the terrible way she died.”
Stephanie was one of my best friends who died of ovarian cancer four years ago.
I wanted to tell this friend no, actually, I hadn’t thought of Stephanie but thank you very much for reminding me. Jeez.
When I picked my kids up from school I bear-hugged them and spoiled them with affection and a nice home-cooked dinner listening to A Christmas Carol in front of the fire, you name it – the whole nine yards.
I “got” it.
I sat with them, astonished at how I’ve taken all of it for granted. I stared at them and thought, poor little orphans!
So this morning I went back to the radiologist. I was Chicken Little on Acid. Totally. Freaked. Out. I tweeted all of you admitting that I was afraid and so many people tweeted back that they were there with me, virtually. (Thank you.)
I went back down the antiseptic hallway…
…and back to the fossilized magazines in the waiting room.
The worst part of it was they were playing Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas by Burl Ives – a musical oxymoron that, in this particular situation, verged on being pornographic. I mean, really.
The technician told me that this time it was really going to hurt because they had to flatten it even more, and it did hurt. Afterwards she looked at the screen a little too long, and I knew in my bones that something was wrong.
“I can’t tell you anything now, but it looks like we’re also going to need to do an ultrasound.”
She led me into a room with an ultrasound machine in it and had me lay down and wait on the table (like a corpse! —> how melodramatic am I??).
She left me alone with myself and an ultrasound machine that should be used to measure fetuses, not tumors.
Alone with the hoodlums in my bad neighborhood, who were rioting now.
Those minutes were very hard. I said the Serenity Prayer but the hoodlums wanted to know if my life insurance was up to date. They wanted to know what would become of my children if they didn’t have me around to mother them? I fretted over the idea of my husband not being able to get the importance of brushing and grooming our daughters’ hair. I imagined them appearing at school unkempt. I thought about options – if I had to have a double-mastectomy, did I care? (Nope.) All I wanted was to live to be an old, doddering granny.
I pulled out my iPhone, scanned my palm, and used my PalmReader app to kill time and make myself feel better. It said:
- Your Luna mount is indicative of someone who is superficial.
- Your life line indicates you are going to experience a significant change.
- The shape of your fingertips shows that you will experience some setbacks in life.
I turned off my iPhone and returned to the comfort of my bad neighborhood.
The next technician came in and she reminded me of Mrs. Claus. During the ultrasound she took measurements of what I imagined was The Tumor. I said another Serenity Prayer and wondered why I only ever say this prayer when I need something.
She left the room for about 15 minutes to confer with the doctor.
I returned to the bad neighborhood.
I chastised myself for taking everything for granted. Maybe I was superficial and doomed. I hadn’t gone to church as much as I should. I’ve shouted too much at my kids. I hadn’t done enough for charities. And now they were going to cut off my boobs and pump me with chemo and then I would die bald, leaving my children motherless, abandoning them.
The door opened and Mrs. Claus came in.
“I have some very, very good news for you,” she said. “You’re fine! It’s only scar tissue from your biopsy!”
I am embarrassed to say that I cried. I did. Mrs. Claus opened her arms and hugged me. She said, “I could tell you were really nervous. Giving people good news like this is the best part of my job…Merry Christmas!”
I left the building just like Ebenezer Scrooge did after all the ghosts left, when he went running out to find Tiny Tim so he could hug him. I had just gotten the biggest gift since having my children – real perspective, and true gratitude for what I have, who I am, who I have around me, and all that lies ahead for us in the future.
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This. Just this.