But today I am going to write about something pretty damned raw. That is your “trigger warning”, as it were; look away if you don’t want to see.The last year of my life has been in most ways a SHIT SANDWICH (there’s some profanity for you, right up front!). And while some of the most pressing challenges have eased, a LOT remains up-in-the-air in a crazy making way. It has been an extended period of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-is-as-good-as-it-is-gonna-get-today.
But because I am ME, the relentless, churning nature of my stressors has not prevented me from my usual hyper-vigilant routines; two weeks ago, that meant going for my yearly mammogram, a somewhat unpleasant but never before upsetting event. My technician was an obviously nice girl who was currently suffering from a condition we like to call being “hangry”. She spent the entire exam talking about how she couldn’t think of anything but lunch at the moment and that she and her co-worker had been fantasizing about food for the past hour.At one point she accidentally “pinched” me with the machine—yes, OUCH—but apologized and corrected it quickly. Afterwards I had a weird sensation like I was going to puke or faint (a first) but it passed quickly. I went about my day and didn’t think much about it.
I had some residual soreness on the left side because of the little mishap, but I certainly wasn’t worried. Until I got THE CALL, a few days later; there was something hinky with my results, and I would have to go back for more imaging. Cue Munch’s “The Scream”.Of course not only were they scheduling a week and a half out, after I grabbed the very first appointment available I was quickly informed that I was being pushed out another day. I took the next appointment available, only to be soon told that I was being rescheduled YET AGAIN. Tears got me in the same day as the previous appointment, but in the late afternoon rather than the morning.
And so the waiting began.Now, a little medical background: my personality, which as I said I often describe as “hyper-vigilant”, goes into overdrive whenever medical issues arise. My doctor has admonished me on more than one occasion that if I had JUST LEFT IT ALONE, things would not have gotten so bad. But I am a Jedi Warrior when it comes to potential threats against my health.
Not only do I employ “The Force” (Mind-over-matter, I can WILL myself back to good health!), I have a cabinet full of DIY remedies, both homeopathic and traditional, that would put Gwenyth Paltrow to shame. I had an ear infection last fall right after the election (I attributed this to a psychosomatic desire not to HEAR the results), and went after that bad boy with everything but the kitchen sink. When I finally admitted defeat and headed to the doctor’s office, she took one look, informed me it was a virus and would pass in another week or so and oh, btw, would I please stop FUCKING WITH MY EAR (more profanity).So now that you know me a little better, we can go back to my mammogram results. My first reaction was “THIS IS BULLSHIT!” because anger is my first reaction to most bad news but also because the Jedi Warrior in me insists there is NO WAY this is right. But, you know, my left breast was still kind of sore, so the obvious solution was to start CONSTANTLY EXAMINING IT and the surrounding tissue and then Googling anything I found that I had questions about.
Am I the only one who does that?Of course Googling can be alternately comforting and terrifying, for those of you who have never succumbed to this siren. So there was a lot of flip-flopping between I’M DYING and I’m fine. Meanwhile, the self-exams were happening spontaneously on the street, as I kept grabbing myself like a baseball player with jock itch to make sure I didn’t feel anything unusual.
More backstory: anyone who reads me regularly knows that my SHIT SANDWICH OF A YEAR was kicked off by my FIRST EVER traffic accident last summer. Since then, my left shoulder has been “out”—yes, I have addressed it with massage and chiropractic treatments plus my usual barrage of DIY remedies, but it has never gone completely back “in”. And the stress of this situation made it go “out” even worse than the triggering accident.Which meant that my left side (same side as the pinched girl part) was in progressively more pain as the muscles cinched themselves tighter and tighter and the knots along my rib cage multiplied (I Googled it; it’s a thing). So I started FUCKING WITH IT while continuing the relentless breast examinations. Which meant the entire left side of my upper body hurt like something that needed to be amputated as my retesting day drew near.
Lest you think this is how I spent the ENTIRE week and half leading up to my second examination, I will say that I continued my life as normally as I could, including daily meditation and walks and meeting deadlines, eating healthy, doing yoga etc. I could even get so absorbed in my work that I forgot all about it! But like how your tongue can’t resist a canker sore, my mind couldn’t resist this frightening puzzle.The universe responded accordingly with a little lesson in "the power of attention", of course. I’d click on a link with a title about writing and it would actually be about BREAST CANCER. My homepage on the internet (undoubtedly due to my Googling) was suddenly full of stories about CANCER. One day I even walked to the mailbox to find a lone postcard from my former insurer (NOT the one that paid for this mammogram) informing me that all costs related to BREAST CANCER would be covered due to a law that requires it. Oh, and have a nice day.
The day of reckoning finally arrived, but I had to be patient until the late afternoon. The weather cooperates with my mood by being cold and wet and gloomy. I walk anyway. I pray. I meditate. I even work! I wait.As I am driving to the hospital I feel surprisingly calm; I have decided if the retest is bad, I am still lucky because it has only been a year since the last one and we are catching it early. Walking up to the building, though, my fear must have shown on my face because a nurse saw me and asked where I was going. I told her and she made sure I got there without a problem, like a ministering angel.
I try handing my insurance card to a woman at reception but she ushers me right in to change. She brings me into the screening room and tells me, yes, it is a problem with the LEFT side. My stomach drops; remember, my left side currently feels like the entire thing needs to be amputated.She is gentle (not hangry) and kind; she takes two pictures and tells me she is going to talk to a radiologist and will be back in ten minutes; she returns sooner and says—everything is clear—you are fine.
And I start to cry.She apologizes for how long it took to get me in and says if I ever (knock wood NO) need a rescreening again please call her and she will get me in IMMEDIATELY. It is hard not to hug her. She tells me to have a nice night and I tell her, “I will now!”
I text the four people I told about this and share the news. I come home and start a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, perfect for such a cold, gloomy day. I get a phone call from my adorable primary care physician who cheers my good results.But I can’t stop the instinctual self-exams. Or giving thanks that I am fine, because one in eight women will not get that same happy answer.
You know, I like to try to gain a little wisdom and perspective from this thing called life and this lesson was a doozy; the first thing I had to acknowledge is that so often we are going through some kind of challenge like waiting for results. At any given moment anyone could be grappling with something you know nothing about and I wonder, what if I were able to say to myself whenever people are unkind or unpleasant—they might be waiting for results.
Or, even worse, they just got some bad news. Would that change how I react to them?
The other thing I had to admit to myself was the powerful lure of my own attention--how because I was thinking about cancer, I was seeing it everywhere. I am not blaming myself for thinking about this possibility after getting THE CALL, that was a totally normal response. But I do now realize in a practical hands-on way that we see exactly what we are looking for.
So if I can live my life understanding that everyone is going through something AND being more mindful of where I focus my attention, this experience becomes a blessing; miraculous, even. Let's remember what potent medicine kindness is and look everywhere for our blessings, okay? That way they will show up as a certainty.