Breathe

I got a call the other night that I had an abnormal mammogram.  Please come back in for another look.  While I was glad I had an appointment in just two days time, that was enough time to envision every possibility.

First I went to my death.  Yep, that’s the way I do it; I go for the biggest, most painful possibility first.  Sadness enveloped me.  Though painful, I can leave my brothers and sisters. Though excruciating, I can leave my husband.  And though no parent should survive their child, I could even imagine leaving my parents.   But I can’t leave my kids.  Not my kids. Just the thought of it was like a punch to my gut by Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m able to imagine what it would be like for them to live without me.  My Dad died when I was thirteen years old so I know what it’s like to always miss, always wonder what it would have been like.  I don’t want that for my kids.  Even though they are eleven and fourteen years old, there are still so many “firsts” that I want to witness.  Sadness.

Then I went to anger.  If I have breast cancer my body would be betraying me once again.  Hasn’t this body been through enough?  Haven’t I paid my bodily dues in life?  Then I remembered that I’m aging and there will be more physical challenges to face.  There’s no set limit on how many times we’ll each be challenged by our bodies.  Some get it more than others.  But still, I don’t want another physical challenge in my life right now.  I’ve got plans! Anger.

Then I felt practical.  I realized that breast cancer is not a death sentence.  If I had a lump, I’d likely need chemotherapy and/or radiation.  I could be a survivor in a new way.  I began lining up the stream of family and friends who could help my family and I in our time of need.  Practical.

Then I was consumed with fear.  Just thinking about chemo and radiation made my heart race and my breath became shallow.  I felt the coldness of the white hospital bed sheets and the operating room in the basement.  I swallowed the metallic taste after surgery.  As I age, I’ve only become more afraid of needles and physical pain.  Utter Fear.

And then I just felt silly.  I became my own witness.  What the hell am I doing?   Why project anything into my future, even if it’s just a day away?  Why don’t I instead take a deep breathe and allow each moment to unfold in it’s own way?  Why not sing my daughter a lullaby (yes, she still likes them – thank God) and be present in the moment?  Whether I have cancer or not doesn’t need to detract from the beauty and joy right in front of me.  I realized I had a choice in the matter.  I could choose my experience.   So I played a game with my family and I sang my daughter and lullaby.

“Sleep my child and peace attend thee, all through the night.  Guardian angels God will send thee, all through the night…..”

I asked for my own Guardian Angels to be with me, to hold me, to remind me to breathe, all though the night.

I didn’t know what I was walking into when I entered the doors to the diagnostic center this morning.  No one did.  I didn’t know if this would be one of those moments in life I never forget: the moment I find out I have cancer.  Who will I be when I walk out of these doors? I wondered.

The technician couldn’t have been nicer; she walked me through each step with kindness and respect.  I wondered what it’s like for her to be with women as they stand on this threshold.  In the waiting room next to me I heard another technician talking to another patient, explaining that they need to do an ultrasound, to take a closer look.  Would that be me in just a few minutes?  I sent the woman a blessing for her journey, whatever form it took.

Fortunately I didn’t need an ultrasound.  I just have dense breasts and the pushing and prying and squishing was all they needed to see that there wasn’t a lump there.  Just dense fibers.  I walked out of the diagnostic center the same woman I was when I walked in: a woman without breast cancer.

But I was changed by the experience of witnessing myself, of seeing how much I can and do project so much into an unknown future.  In my need to control, I try to envision every possibility in life so that I can avoid any mishaps.  I wonder, what if I let go of trying to control the future? What if I just breathe into it instead?

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One Response to Breathe

  1. Kathleen says:

    As always, a thoughtful take on a profoundly impacting event. Congratulations on being cancer-free. Did life suddenly seem to “right itself?” I have no doubt that an experience like that can be wholly changing. I’ve had petty, minor versions of the same and I cannot, for the life of me, hold on to the discoveries that I have in those moments. I hope your story is not the same. We should all feel a little more fragile. It helps us see what’s truly important. Thanks for taking the time to remind us of that – and to point out that we can choose our response. Congratulations, again. Here’s to your health and to many more lullabys!

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